Sound of hope

Afghanistan’s first woman conductor is only 17

Negin Khpolwak of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, performs in Washington D.C. in 2013. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Not only was music banned for years by the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan but girls were excluded from education … which makes the emergence of the country’s first female conductor even more remarkable. Negin Khpolwak, 17, is a student at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul — the only school of its kind in the country. From a poor family in Kunar province — a Taliban stronghold in north-east Afghanistan — Negin had to move to Kabul to fulfil her dream to study music. “My father helped me,” she told the BBC.

When Negin was nine, he sent her to live in a children’s home in Kabul so she could receive an education. She later auditioned for the Institute where she is one of 200 students, a quarter of whom are girls. At one point, she withdrew from school for six months under pressure from other family members, who opposed her studying music. “My uncle told us, ‘No girls in our family should learn music. It’s against tradition,” she said.

The objections of family are not the only problem students face, said Institute director Ahmad Sarmast — there’s also violence. Last year, a student concert was targeted by a suicide bomber, killing someone in the audience.

Negin plays the sarod, the piano and now conducts. Her concert on the day she was interviewed was her first as conductor, fronting an all-female ensemble. “I was so happy. I cried when I got on the stage and saw all the people in the audience. I want Afghanistan to be like other countries in the world, where girls can become pianists and conductors.”

Read the full story at the BBC.

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