Instrument of change

Source: The National
The musician Homayun Sakhi, will perform on Thursday at the Manarat al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy Aga Khan Music Initiative

The musical heritage of Afghanistan is finding new voices with the help of an ambitious global social development initiative.

One of the largest Afghan populations outside Afghanistan is located in Fremont, California.

“If you visit Fremont, you would never think that you were in America,” says Fairouz Nishanova, the director of the Aga Khan Music Initiative. “It’s a Pashtun environment, and its language, clothing, architecture, everything, has been imported from Kabul.” It shouldn’t be too surprising, then, to hear that it is also the home of one of the leading exponents of the rubab, a variety of fretted lute that sits at the heart of Afghan folk and classical traditions.


That Afghan culture is now producing green shoots in the shape of Sakhi and musicians like him must be a source of satisfaction to Nishanova, who describes herself as ethnically Central-Asian though she was born in Sri Lanka, raised in the Middle East, educated in England “and I live on the plane”. The Aga Khan Music Initiative is part of the Aga Khan Development Network (ADKN), which invests in development projects around the world. The network operates under the aegis of the Aga Khan IV, imam of the Shia Imami Ismailis, and usually provides support at several levels simultaneously. “We never favour social development projects only or economic development projects only,” says Nishanova. “When we make a commitment to the region, we come as a package, with equal importance given to social, economic and cultural projects.”

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