Kabul Dreams Reclaims the Noise

How an Afghan rock band uses its voice amid the noise.

Sophia Tareen

May 13, 2019

Kabul Dreams Reclaims the Noise

We’re dining in Kamdesh Kebab House in Oakland, discussing how one would describe bolani. Is it similar to a paratha? Or kulcha? Neither, explain Sulyman Qardash and Siddique Ahmed — it is its own bread dish, and tonight, the menu is in Dari, a language of Afghanistan. Affable and unassuming (except perhaps for Qardash’s lush, burnt-orange overcoat), our dinner guests balance studio recordings, feature films, and international tours with day jobs. Qardash and Ahmed are members of Kabul Dreams, Afghanistan’s first rock band.

A scan of today’s top charts quickly reveals pop and hip-hop as the dominant genres — rock is noticeably absent. While bands like Panic! At the Disco and Imagine Dragons have emerged to represent fusion genres such as pop-rock, the popularity of classic rock and punk rock music has decreased significantly since its peak in the 1980s. The genre survives today primarily through live performances and music festivals. Psychedelic rock band Tame Impala and indie rock group The Strokes headlined Coachella and Lollapalooza this year, and the lineup at 2019’s South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin included over 400 groups categorized as rock — including Kabul Dreams.

Kabul Dreams’s music contains the typical characteristics of punk rock. With Qardash on vocals, Ahmed on guitar, and Raby Adib, the third member of the band since 2013, on drums, the trio creates a mélange of fast guitar riffs and rowdy rhythms. The music is loud — as rock music should bewith fierce strumming, billowing vocal sounds, and unpredictable dynamics. Only 30 seconds into “Rush,” I catch myself and smile. Typically a fan of soft acoustics and slow R&B ballads, I find myself loosening the muscles in my neck and bobbing my head to the undulating vocals. But that’s what Kabul Dreams does — it ignites a dormant energy, engaging you just enough to let go and fall freely into the brisk tempos and uproar of the amplifier. It’s what happened in Kabul in 2013, when the band performed for The Afghan Youth Voices Festival. Teenagers and young adults headbanged to the beat; Kabul Dreams effortlessly transformed the streets into a rock concert.