Afghan musicians face execution by Taliban

Afghan music campaign graphic

Almost 250 musicians and organisations have written an open letter to The Times, asking the UK government to recognise the plight of Afghan musicians and offer them asylum following the takeover of the country by the Taliban.

The Campaign to Protect Afghanistan’s Musicians was launched at Somerville College, Oxford at the end of September after messages were sent to Downing Street about the crisis.

Speakers at the meeting included Benafsha Yaqoobi, Commissioner, Afghanistan Independent Commission for Human Rights; Mirwaiss Sidiqi, Director, Aga Khan Music Initiative in Afghanistan; Justin Adams, Musician and Founder, Festival au Désert (‘Festival in the Desert’) in Mali; and William Dalrymple, historian, writer, broadcaster and critic, author of Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan. It was hosted by Baroness of Blaisdon, Janet Royall, the college Principal and chaired by Dr Katherine Butler Schofield, Senior Lecturer in South Asian Music and History at Kings College London.

A Taliban fighter guards the entrance to the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul WAKIL KOHSAR/GETTY IMAGES
A Taliban fighter guards the entrance to the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul WAKIL KOHSAR/GETTY IMAGES

Sir Simon Rattle, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Howard Goodall CBE, Peter Gabriel, Tanita Tikaram, Nitin Sawhney CBE and Julian Lloyd-Webber OBE are among the signatories to the letter, as are the Musicians’ Union, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Academy of Music.

Musicians in Afghanistan are living in hiding and moving from house to house

According to the campaign, since the UK, US and other western forces pulled out of the country, Taliban members have brutally beaten and sometimes assassinated traditional musicians, banned music on radio and in public and destroyed musical instruments. Musicians in Afghanistan are living in hiding and moving from house to house. The letter pleads with the government to offer asylum to these musicians.

‘As a global champion of freedom of expression, the United Kingdom has given sanctuary to many refugee musicians over the years, who in turn have enriched our musical life,’ reads the letter. ‘In light of this, we call on the government to offer urgent humanitarian visas to Afghan musicians so the UK can play its part in ensuring they — and their invaluable cultural heritage — are not lost for ever.’

Justin Adams, who is one of Britain’s greatest exponents of world music and who is a member of Robert Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters is a leading light in the campaign. He told MUSIC:ED, ‘Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan has lasted hundreds of years and our wealth as a country was founded on the profits of Empire. This country’s hugely rich musical culture has been founded on the influence of musics from all around the world, and immigration has brought musical treasure.

‘With musicians unable to work and under threat in Afghanistan, it would make perfect sense for the UK to honour its connections with Afghanistan by welcoming musicians who would clearly benefit our culture.’

The full letter and list of signatories can be read here.

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