Stephen O’Malley


Posted: May 8, 2005

Burqa blues hit the airwaves

Aug 03 2003 11:42:38:403AM

An Afghanistan all-girl rock group "Burqa Band" that was formed in a day, has hit the airwaves and clubs in Germany.

Berlin - It began in Kabul as a joke, but with the help of a few German musicians Afghanistan's all-girl rock group "Burqa Band" was formed in the space of a day and has hit the airwaves and clubs in Germany.

All that remains of the ephemeral alliance of the Burqa and rock is an amateur video clip and a song remixed by Berlin DJ Barbara Morgenstern which has become a modest summer-time favourite.

The female trio appears on screen as three blue ghosts in a makeshift studio in Kabul; bound by their robes they nevertheless let it all hang out on the drums, electric bass and microphone.

"You give me all your love, you give me all your kisses, and then you touch my burqa, and don't know who it is..." the lead singer moans in halting but determined English.

"Burqa, burqa bluuueee" they sing, in ironic lyrics that still manage to tell the tale of how Afghan women were oppressed by the former Taliban regime.

It's a surprising image in a city where cultural events were virtually outlawed and dance steps can be made out under the gyrating robes, moves that would have meant almost certain death a few years ago.

"There is almost nothing left of the traditional musical culture from before the Taliban. The instruments and infrastructure was all destroyed," said Kurt Dahlke, a music producer sent to run a workshop by Germany's Goethe Institute.

Dahlke, from the Ata Tak record company, and two colleagues arrived in Kabul last October with the aim of helping to re-awaken Afghanistan's musical sensibilities and spread some "traditional music" influence.

They played a mix of Persian, Russian and Indian sounds on local percussion instruments, a harmonium and the Afghan violin.

But they also wanted to spread some rock gospel so they brought records with them and gave some improvised concerts with modern instruments, and in the end they handed over the baton to the locals.

About 100 people attended their workshops, but not a single woman was amongst them.

"One day, my colleague Saskia asked our Afghan translator if she wanted to play around on the drums," said Kurt, whose colleagues helped pen the lyrics.

"Two other women, who made the tea, got excited about the idea of playing in a group. But in fear of the reaction in society here, they don't want their names made known," he said.

Taboos still strong

Despite their precautions, making the video clip proved tedious.

"We locked the room. The male students were knocking on the door all the time, they thought our meeting behind closed doors was suspicious. We had to open the door all the time to calm them down," said Kurt's colleague Frank.

They had to abandon an original plan to film the women dancing in a local bazaar, because Afghanistan's taboos remained too strong.

"We haven't show the video in Afghanistan, people there aren't quite ready for it yet," Kurt said.

Recorded western music is tolerated but concerts are unheard of. While Kurt and his colleagues were in Afghanistan, fundamentalist gunmen burst in on a party and fired on the band, killing two musicians.

The Burqa Band has since returned to their families and they are unsure about whether they should ever play again, let alone unmasked.

"Burqa bluuueee... my mother wears blue jeans now, things are changing faster, I don't know if it's good."