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- Published on Monday, 05 September 2011 12:00
- Category: Artist Profile
Last year’s Taliban-fighting weapon is about to become this year’s youth explosion: Heavy Metal. This music is apparently so hated by the Taliban that U.S. forces began blasting it to disarm fighters, who needed to put down their weapons to cover their ears. Deemed “trashy Western music” by many Afghans, the genre is about to get a face lift this fall with hopes that “crowds of Afghans [will be] head-banging and moshing in the streets.”
“Musicians and youth in the region are more empowered than ever before,” wrote HELO Magazine, a co-producer of the Sound Central Festival, Afghanistan’s first Rock music festival. Spanning the course of September and October, the event is one that will build solidarity and promote peace, through the aggressive lyrics and musicality of Heavy Metal and other genres of Rock.
Headlining the festival’s main event will be three Afghan bands: D.U., White Page, and Kabul Dreams. Although the bands are now based in Kabul, members of all three spent most of their lives away from Afghanistan as refugees during the Taliban era. “We have our own feelings,” said the lead singer from D.U., Afghanistan’s first heavy metal band, “We have got aggression, depression and we need to speak out for each and every Afghan youngster who needs to speak.” Their absence, and now return, hugely influence their music and how they use it to confront the Taliban’s repression of Afghan culture.
Formally called District Underground, the group of four young Afghan men of D.U. shortened their name and now hide their identities because of threats and accusations labeling them as “Satanists” with music that “is too dark, negative,” therefore making them “un-Afghan.” Their single, “My Nightmare”, looked at the frustrations Afghan youth are facing now that decades of war has left them with little or no prospects.
In November 2010, they “shocked” audiences with their own cover of Marilyn Manson’s cover of the Eurythmics hit “Sweet Dreams.” Their message held nothing back against government corruption under President Hamid Karzai, the “them” in the song’s lyrics representing those in charge of Afghanistan’s leadership. “It deals with reality,” the group’s lead singer told Al Jazeera. “[You] are used and abused by other people as the poor are taken advantage of by the powerful and rich.” Their lyrics about war, corruption, exile, and refugee camps are hard to take in, but for the lead singer, that unease is only part of the fun. “In art, you have to do something that discomforts people,” he said. “When the audience asks what is that, and thinks it’s gross, it’s very powerful.”
Powerful because it provokes reaction, which the band hopes will turn into dialogue. “Metal can be aggressive, but there is a difference between beating someone up with a fist and beating them with music and a voice,” D.U. explained. “Here in Afghanistan we’re missing a language that talks. Instead we have a language of violence and retaliation. But I can’t blame my country and my people, because for decades all we had was war.”
With war came a paradox that looms in the background of both band and Kabul, one where children chase the members on skateboards, then get killed by explosions in the city. “We can’t sing about going to get coffee with your girlfriend because that isn’t happening in Kabul right now,” laments D.U. Yet it’s the ability to take on politics that attracted the group’s members to rock: “We have to talk about issues in society and metal allows us to do that.”
“We are the tongue for the Afghan youth to speak their feelings. We want them to have their energy spent on something creative and new, not wasted on street fights.”
To those trying to appeal to religious conservatives, the band, along with other rock groups in the region, are labeled as “too Western,” but their music is in fact a hybrid, incorporating traditional Afghan music through poetic references to Rumi and the use of traditional instruments into the framework of music that is not so much Western as it has become global. “You don’t need to be Westernized to be modern and contemporary,” D.U. believes. “It’s not a bad thing to be mixed between cultures.”
Think of it as “classical poetry, with growling vocals.”
By Safa Samiezade'-Yazd, Aslan Media Contributor
Photo Credit: Gabriel Pollard