Girl band in burka

In Afghanistan girls aren't supposed to play music or sing songs. But 25-year-old Nargiz didn't care. She started the Burka Band, the first Afghan girl band ever.

By Michael Lund and Signe Daugbjerg

- Blueee, burka blue, sings the lead singer on the tv, while another woman plays the drums and a third the guitar.

The three girls make small dancesteps and swing the microphone as you would in any other girl band. But there is one big difference. The three girls all wear the Afghan burka, the blue dress that covers a woman from head to toe.

25-year-old Nargiz laughs when she shows us the video in Kabul , the capital of Afghanistan . She is one of the three girls who started the Burka Band two years ago.

- It was a lot of fun, but also very scary. Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place for modern women, and when we shot the video we had to do it very discreetely because no one could know that we were playing music, says Nargiz.

Hidden recording

Nargiz started the Burka Band when she met a German music producer in Kabul in late 2002. The producer was teaching Afghans to play modern music, and Nargiz learned to play the drums. One day she wondered why all the burkas in Kabul were blue, and together with two friends she wrote the song "Burka Blue" which is about burkas and the way you feel when you wear them. The song was recorded in Kabul with help from the German producers. The band would rehearse behind locked doors, so nobody would find out that the women were playing music. The burka also helped hide who the bandmembers really were.

- Of course it was a joke to sing in the burkas, but it was also necessary to wear them. If people in Afghanistan knew who the members of the Burka Band were, we could be attacked or killed because there are still a lot of religious fanatics here, says Nargiz, who hasn't told any of her friends that she has played in the Burka Band.

In 2003 the German record label Ata Tak released the song in Germany and the song became a hit in German clubs after it had been remixed by a german DJ. The Burka Band even performed at a big concert in Köln during a trip to Germany . Unfortunately, Nargiz couldn't join the band in Köln because she had to work, but she followed all the hype from her home in Kabul .

Too dangerous to sing

- At first I didn't believe it, when the German producer told me the song was a hit in Germany . It was fantastic, but at the same time, we also worried that somebody in Afghanistan would find out who we were because of all the attention, remembers Nargiz, who estimates that only 10 people in Afghanistan actually know who the faces behind the burkas in the band belong to.

The Burka Band has never performed in Afghanistan and at the moment the band is not active. During the Taliban regime music was totally forbidden, and women were not allowed to work. To sing in public could carry a death sentence. Today the country is still very conservative, and there is no market in Afghanistan for the Burka Band's music. The band members have to wait for a European or American record label to help them if they are to make a whole album one day.

- I'd like to play again, but right now it is not possible. Last year there was a big bomb at a concert here in Kabul , and lots of people are still against female singers because the religous leaders condemn it. It will probably take 10 years before we will have real girl bands here in Afghanistan , says Nargiz, who now works in an international organisation in Kabul .

The lead singer of the Burka Band has gone to Pakistan because she can't sing in Afghanistan , and the guitarist has a regular job.

Today the only place to see the Burka Band is on the video. On the screen the first and only Afghan girl band plays on with their headphones on the burka-covered heads and the drumsticks swinging. The lyrics go:

- My mother wears a burka, I must wear a burka too. We all wear a burka, we don't know who is who. Blueee, burka blue.

Nargiz's name has been changed to secure her anonymity.

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The land of no music

When the religious Taliban-movement was in power in Afghanistan they banned all music because they thought singing and dancing was the work of the devil. People listening to music would be beaten or put in prison. Watching television, flying kites and wearing make-up was also forbidden for more than five years and women were forced to wear a burka.

In 2001 the Taliban was ousted from power by a coalition led by the Americans and today the country is moving towards democracy. However, Afghanistan is still a very conservative country and many Afghans feel that especially women shouldn't play music.



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