Opinion: As Afghanistan Falls, What Happens to its Artists?

A musician remembers an Afghanistan brimming with creativity and energy. Now, he fears what might be extinguished.

Qardash

August 20, 2021

Opinion: As Afghanistan Falls, What Happens to its Artists?
Kabul Dreams (courtesy of Sulyman Qardash)

It’s interesting that we tell children not to use the word “hate” because it’s such a strong word. What we don’t tell children is that you should reserve the word “hate” for things that are truly despicable. Like when someone takes away your home, your loved ones, or your most personal possessions. Or when someone erases the beautiful memories you’ve accumulated in a specific place. Or when someone murders your mother, your father, your brother, in broad daylight, right in front of your eyes.

As extreme as they may sound, none of these are hypothetical scenarios. Countless people lived through these realities in Afghanistan in the not-so-distant past. When I see what’s going on in the country today, my blood boils because I remember what my life used to be like. I hate what’s currently happening in Afghanistan unlike anything or anyone I’ve ever hated before. I’ve had the chance to see the other side of Afghanistan — the side that’s powerful, hopeful, creative, and resilient — and to think that could all disappear in a matter of days is absolutely soul-crushing.

Believe it or not, there was a time when Afghanistan was rebuilding in a very promising way. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but the country was brimming with optimism. The year was 2008, and Kabul was rife with pollution, heavy traffic, and more 1998 Corollas than anyone could count. If you’ve spent any time in New York or Los Angeles, just imagine that same gridlock, but multiply it by 10.

That year stood out to me because that’s the year I met a couple of guys, Siddique and Mujtaba, through some mutual friends. From that moment onward, everything changed. Kabul started to look a lot less dreary, and a lot more dreamy. That’s how rock band Kabul Dreams was born.

Siddique was on bass, Mujtaba was on drums, and I was on guitar and vocals. We didn’t just play music together — we spent every day together. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. Our taste in music, our views on politics, and our personal values were perfectly aligned. We learned a lot from each other, and those learnings transformed me into the person I am today.

The three of us rehearsed everyday, constantly moving from one room to the next. Whenever we tried to settle down and play, landlords would kick us out because our music was too loud. We started to perform around town by booking gigs at private universities and cultural centers that didn’t usually host musical events, let alone rock concerts.