For the past five years our headlines have been dominated by the conflict raging in Afghanistan; the lives taken and the ceaseless destruction caused. In my determined investigations to find out the harsh ‘reality’ of life in Afghanistan, a country that has faced more political upheaval in its history than perhaps any other, I instead stumbled upon a small fragment of youthful optimism amid the discord.
They come in the form of Kabul Dreams, a band who proclaim themselves to be Afghanistan’s first indie-rock band and who are, slowly but surely, pioneering a new movement of western music across their war-torn country. Formed in 2009, they are something of an oddity, describing their sound as “indie rock with elements of Brit pop”, with influences ranging from
“Radiohead and The Beatles to The Vines and Oasis”.
While this may be a standard response from every up and coming ‘indie’ band in the UK, having such western influences is practically unheard of in a country in which all music was virtually banned for a decade under Taliban rule, and all westernised products strictly taboo. All three members of Kabul Dreams are no strangers to having their lives dictated by such political and religious oppression. Lead singer Siddique recounted to me how “the three of us were born in Afganistan but had to move to the neighbouring countries during the political turmoil, civil war and the Taliban period.”
Bringing together the youth of Afghanistan under their message of ‘peace, solidarity, love and friendship’, rather than the all too familiar religious and military dogma, gives them a unique and significant role. While they may have been some of the lucky few who managed to escape the harshness of living under Taliban rule, their lives have been a far cry from their privileged western musical counterparts. And yet, they truly believe that their music can make a difference. “We certainly feel we are an inspiration for young Afghans,” says Ahmed, who stands as the mouthpiece for the band, being the most fluent in English. “Considering how much the Afghan youth suffered during the war in every aspect of their lives, including the lack of social life, music and other forms of entertainment, we want to be able to form a platform for youngsters in future to express themselves through new styles of music.”
There is a definite sense, however, that even they themselves have been taken aback by their mounting popularity. “In our biggest gig here in Kabul for an Afghan audience, we didn’t expect them to like our music this much,” says Ahmed. “We thought they might just stand there and listen and probably clap at the end of each song, but they were a proper rock audience; they screamed, they yelled, danced and jumped!” However, with 68% of the population under the age of 25 in Afghanistan, it comes as little surprise to me that their concerts have stirred up so much excitement across the city of Kabul. With such limited opportunities for young people to gather freely and let their hair down, such gatherings come as a welcome relief. It is perhaps for this reason that the lyrics to the songs of Kabul dreams are permeated by a wistful and peaceful escapism.
I asked whether they viewed themselves as a political band, though the vagueness of their answer suggested it is a label they are attempting to avoid. “Our songs are about different things,” says Ahmed. “Some are about our lives and what we want. Some are about universal themes like love, peace, girls and relationships”.
When I ask them what they see as their main role as musicians, all three band members are keen to emphasise the impact they believe their music can have in changing the perceptions of the outside world on the culture and traditions of Afghanistan. “We always had a dream to play in an Afghan rock band sometime and represent Afghanistan internationally in festivals and other events,” explains Ahmed. “When we got together and started jamming, this dream became a reality.”
While it is far too idealistic to believe that three reasonably talented and optimistic individuals hold the key to radical social change across Afghanistan, the ideals of freedom and love in their songs are vitally important in inspiring the Afghan youth, whose lives are too often dominated by the destruction of war.
Certainly, as three men they are sure to encounter far less criticism than if such a project had been embarked upon by females. Even at their recent concert at the American University of Afghanistan, the girls sat on the sidelines while the men danced and jumped with abandon. It is a harsh reminder of how the western principles expressed in their lyrics can only go so far, particularly in the face of centuries of religious subjugation of women.
With an album planned for this year, Kabul Dreams are well on their way to bringing even a small measure of hope to people whose lives have otherwise been marred with war and political oppression. As they say themselves, “we are doing something different, something that’s never been done before”, and for that you cannot help but admire them.