Page last updated at 01:08 GMT, Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Afghan dreams of rock and roll


Kabul Dreams perform at the South Asia Bands Festival

By Moska Najib
BBC News, Delhi

Indie rock - but not from Britain or America.

This is music from Afghanistan, of a kind seldom heard before, but now produced by a trio of young men.

The band, Kabul Dreams, is made up of vocalist Sulaymon Qardash, bass player Siddique Ahmad and drummer Mujtaba Habibi, who claim to be the country's first and only rock and roll group.

"One year ago in December we decided to create this band and since it was happening in Kabul, we thought Kabul Dreams is a good name," says the 19-year-old vocalist, who bears a distinct resemblance to Liam Gallagher of the British band Oasis.

"It's a real dream to play indie rock music in Afghanistan."

Catching on fast

I caught up with the three-piece in Delhi, where they took part in the South Asian Bands Festival, which seeks to promote regional cultural ties.

Kabul Dreams vocalist Sulaymon Qardash.
Playing rock music is a risk, but we want to play in Afghanistan, we love our country
Sulaymon Qardash

Qardash - who likes indie fashion - grew up listening to Britpop bands like Radiohead and Travis.

With the political turmoil which gripped Afghanistan in the 1990s, all three members sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Iran, where they were influenced by the Western music they heard.

"During the years of the Taliban, we were away and one positive thing for all of us was that we had an opportunity to learn music and have good facilities where we could practise," says Ahmad, who lived in Pakistan for 10 years and played with bands producing new music.

While original Afghan music is closely associated with traditional instruments like the rubab and dombura, indie rock is still a new genre - but it is catching on fast among Afghan youth.


"Lots of young people are listening to rock music," says Ahmad.

"Because we don't have any rock music, they listen to international bands and music from neighbouring countries like India and Pakistan.

"We thought it was about time for Afghanistan to have its own rock band."

Afghan band Kabul Dreams
Kabul Dreams' members come from three different parts of the country

The group mixes Afghan rhythmic patterns with rock and roll music.

And what's more unusual, they sing in English.

"Since the three of us come from three different parts of Afghanistan and speak in three different languages - Pashto, Dari and Uzbek - we thought it would be a good idea to sing in English," says Ahmad.

Habibi, on drums, feels they will also get more international exposure with a language that is spoken widely.

But first things first: the band has yet to release an album.

So far the trio have only performed for a niche group of expats, non-governmental organisation workers and educated young Afghans familiar with the new genre.

But the continuing security threats in the country have placed restrictions on public gatherings and their performances.

And in the absence of an organised music industry, new bands like Kabul Dreams face difficulties in financing and producing their music.

"Other bands around the world have lots of opportunities and facilities, but we have to do everything ourselves," says Ahmad.

"We have a video shoot, we have to take care of everything. There is no production house that we could go to."


The 27-year-old studies during the day and works with Habibi in a recording studio.

Qardash is a presenter with a private TV and radio station. Much of their salaries is invested in Kabul Dreams.

We formed this band to give a message to the Afghan youth that they can live together
Siddique Ahmad

Despite the challenges, the trio want to bring a musical revolution to the Islamic country, where playing rock music is considered too Western and provocative.

"Playing rock music is a risk but we want to play in Afghanistan," says Qardash, as he tunes his guitar.

"We love our country and we want to change our young generation, we want to make something new."

Ahmad points out that Kabul Dreams is truly multi-ethnic, consisting as it does of an Uzbek, Pashtun and Tajik.

"The reason we formed this band was to give a message to the Afghan youth, a message that they can live together," he says.

"Because Afghanistan has always been a country with different ethnic groups, different people who speak in different languages and even have different cultures, our message is that it is possible to be together because we have examples all over the world."

Ahmad feels the younger generation of Afghans has learned from the mistakes of war and is now indifferent to the issue of ethnicity.

"One Afghan," he reiterates. "That's it."

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