AFGHANISTAN. Herat. Like most Afghan girls who conceal their ambitions for becoming a singer, Raihana Raihan failed to act upon her dreams in a city where fundamentalists still frown upon women singing in public. 22-year-old Raihana comes from a middle-class family in Herat, western Afghanistan, who kept her passion for music since her childhood.
School performance brings attention and confidence
Living in the remote districts of Herat, Raihana listened to music, wrote the lyrics she heard, and sang them when alone. When she performed the song “ I am an Afghan Girl” in front of school students for the first time, the schoolmaster praised her and told her father about her talent. The words of the schoolmaster made her believe herself.
Consequences for singing
Raihana’s family still lives in the area under Taliban control, but Raihana has moved to Herat.
“Every year, I write a letter to my dad and tell him “please don’t worry about me’. Not because I can’t talk to him on the phone. But because I can write more comfortably”. Raihana can not appear on social media because of the grave risks for her family safety, but her family does not oppose it.
She still faces obstacles in traditional Herat society
Raihana found the city unexpectedly different than what she thought. Discrimination from a society mainly dominated by men still exists. In an interview with Transcontinental Times, Raihana said she noticed her male friends and some girls keeping a distance from her, ever since they found out about her love for music.
Threats are also a fact of life for people who appear on TV, especially women. For women who turn up on TV shows like the popular Afghan Star, a TV talent contest for discovering talented singers, their life will be at risk.
Clerics calling ‘Afghan Star’ Satanic
In October 2017, the Afghan Star contest was required to be held inside the Herat airport at the demand of the clerics who protested the program. They believe it is a Satanic show that promotes western democracy and allows women to appear without hijab. Raihana registered herself for the singing test, but at the last moment, she refused to attend for the sake of her family threatened by the Taliban.
She said, “Many tell me that the Taliban are to return in power, why don’t you sing?”
“Music is energy for me. One of my brothers always tells the family that ‘when Raihana dies, play music and she will wake up’. Some relatives living in the districts are now introducing me as a role model for their girls. I want to be a role model for other girls in music.”
Taliban return to power
Since the 2001 US-led invasion, artists have benefited from an era that gained them freedom of expression. As foreign troops leave Afghanistan, based on the US-Taliban peace deal made in February 2020, some like Raihana are worried about the freedom of expression that may be imperiled.
When asked if she is afraid of the Taliban return to power as a singer, she said:” Yes, I am so afraid. They can come, but they must come with a new version of them, unlike their old dark thoughts. I am afraid of them but I am not going to give up and forget the music at any price. I am ready to die or leave the country but I will not leave music.”