The past friday 9th of December was a historic and happy day for AFCECO and for Afghanistan as the children and staff and our friends here in Kabul were graced with a special and personal concert by the one and the only Ustad Arman, the legendary Afghan musician who is the founder and great teacher of Afghanistan’s music institute.
Every era has its keeper of a nation’s spirit, a defender of the truth, a friend of the people, a poet, a singer whose voice and words find that way from heart to heart. In Afghanistan, Ustad Arman is that keeper, and yesterday he evoked that spirit in the theater of AFCECO’s New Learning Center. In the audience he found his mehan (homeland) alive and well; whistling, clapping, cheering, an atmosphere infused with such joy and hope and excitement from the children, and tears welling up in the eyes of the adults.
The great Ustad, now an octogenarian, was first to bring the guitar to Afghanistan, and as much as he was a performer and poet, he was a teacher. There is not a singer or performer in Afghanistan who does not owe a debt to Arman for his instruction and his enthusiasm for the power of music to hold forth the fist of justice in the palm of love, hence it is not a surprise people call him ‘father of Afghanistan music’.
Mr. Arman appeared playing harmonium and leading songs cherished by all in the room. He was accompanied by a stellar acoustic orchestra that included rubab, guitar, wooden flute, tabla and dol. It was due to the experience of his daughter, Mashal, a classically trained vocalist who performed for the children last summer that Ustad was prompted to come and give to the future of his beloved country. And millions of thanks should go to Dr Ahmad Naser Sarmast, Founder and Project Director of Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) who facilitated the visit of the beloved Ustad Arman to the AFCECO facility. Even though Arman is getting frail and travel is hard on him, he saw a last chance to ennoble the Afghanistan of his dreams.
Toward the end of the hour and a half long concert Ustad took requests from the audience. One particular song he obliged us is about the destruction of Kabul in 1992, when the city was swimming in blood. It is a song in defense of Afghan culture and music, in particular a defense of the legendary Ahmad Zair whose grave was the first thing destroyed by the hardline rival factions when they took control of the city. This extraordinary song was heard only once on BBC in 1992. Here for the children, tearful and strong of voice he sang it for the first time in nineteen years.
This is just the kind of experience AFCECO strives to create for its community, a chance to tap into the true deep well of Afghan heritage, the tunes of a people that survived the darkest of times. The energy in the NLC was nothing less than miraculous. If someone walking into the room had only known the stories broadcast in the news over the past thirty years, she or he would not believe this is Afghanistan. And yet it is, and here the future is bright.
Our friends at ANIM (the Afghanistan National Institute of Music) have fostered a close relationship with AFCECO, and we are in great debt to their generosity of spirit joining hands between our children and Afghan culture as well as cultures of the world. After the concert the guitarist Qasim Rameshgar, considered by most to be the best in Afghanistan, promised to begin guitar lessons every Thursday at the orphanage. Ustad Arman himself was so touched by the experience he there and then committed to returning in January for another concert, this time with his daughter Mashal.
The New Learning Center has come a long way in less than a year, thanks to a grant through Asia Foundation and USAID. This is the true spirit of collaboration, a positive direction, a proven path from heart to heart.
We will soon share with you the movie clips of this great event.
The AFCECO staff