Classical musician Homayoun Sakhi was born in Kabul and plays the Rubab, the national instrument of Afghanistan.
This weekend he will be heard on stage when he performs at a benefit concert in London, but for those living in Afghanistan it is a sound they no longer hear.
“Our people… they need peace, they need music… we have to help them,” he insists.
When the Taliban came to power more than two decades ago, they banned all forms of music other than religious singing.
Since regaining control of Afghanistan, they have introduced a ban on music in public places and videos on social media – and while it’s impossible to independently verify – some footage appears to show musicians with bruises and torn clothes and broken musical instruments with stones.
“Honestly, when I saw this, I felt like they were burning my heart,” Sakhi says.
“Behind the music, there is [so much] history… generation after generation… we have so many great songs and I think people need them.”
Over the past decade, ethnomusicologist Mirwaiss Sidiqi had returned to his home country to work as director of two music schools. They closed at night when Kabul has fallen.
“People are afraid to play”
The photos he shows of musicians he has known must now be blurred to protect their identity.
“There are no words to express how neglected the musicians were during this whole process,” says Sidiqi. “How is it morally possible to leave these people in the same situation [they faced], like 20 years ago?
“Teachers and students were afraid to go back to school and do musical activities. The Taliban actually officially announced that musicians had to change professions, so they’re not allowed to perform, they’re only allowed to do any musical event. They’re scared.”
Sidiqi says he gets daily phone calls from hidden musicians who can’t afford to eat because they can’t earn money.
“If they practice their work, their art, they risk their lives… if they don’t practice, they risk their lives by starving to death,” he says.
As the British and American evacuation from Afghanistan made headlines last August, Sidiqi says there is frustration and anger among those who need help from the West and that no one seems to listen to them.
“In Western countries, they have a duty to support those who have served them, who [provided them in Afghanistan with] pleasant days and nights,” he says.
“They are starving and there is no one to help them, they are crying out for help…and the UK government should have a moral duty to help artists who have no voice.”
‘Breaking the Silence: Music in Afghanistan’ and ‘Songs of Hope: A Benefit Concert for Afghanistan’ take place at The Barbican on January 22 with profits going to EMERGENCY, Learn and MMCC.