Friday, February 22, 2008

Reel Afghanistan

By Tim Cornwell - The Scotsman - Edinburgh, Scotland
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sylvester Stallone’s forgettable take on the Afghan revolt against Soviet occupiers, Rambo III, was made in the safety of Israel and Jordan.

The big-budget Russian film 9th Company, filmed in the Crimea by Fyodor Bondarchuk, tells the story of the same war through the eyes of young Russian recruits. It was embraced by strong-arm Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The two films are on offer at the Cameo this Sunday, in what must be one of the strangest double-bills in art cinema history – what makes it all the stranger is that they are part of a festival earnestly aimed at building awareness of the real Afghanistan.

Reel Afghanistan launches tomorrow [Thursday, Feb 21] in Edinburgh, claiming to be the UK’s first ever festival of Afghan cinema and culture, including music and exhibitions.

On Sunday night, on the heels of Rambo, Afghan musicians will stage a concert at the Queen’s Hall playing traditional music on instruments most of us have never heard of: the dilruba, the rubab, dolak and tanbour.Their appearance comes amid warnings that in the wake of the Taleban’s crackdown, and with continuing fear and hostility, these instruments and their players are in danger of becoming extinct.

The Afghan music ensemble Kharabat play on Sunday alongside the Qawali Sham Sufi group.

For Khabarat’s four Afghan players, simply getting to Britain was a task that made Amy Winehouse’s US travel troubles look trivial. The British Embassy in Kabul doesn’t hand out travel visas, so they had to go to Pakistan to apply.

They waited in a hotel nearly three weeks, running the gauntlet of suspicious local police. One, Mohamed Yassin, was arrested and relieved of his wallet; when he asked for the money back, he was simply slapped.

Yassin plays the dilruba, a sitar-like traditional instrument looking a lot more familiar than its name might imply, but with 15-18 strings and a similar number of frets, played with a bow. He is described as the only young dilruba player in Afghanistan.

The Taleban’s religious zealotry aimed at stamping out music, dance and song saw instruments destroyed or burned if they were not hidden away. Their players fled to Pakistan or further afield.

From a family of musicians centred on the Kharabat music quarter of Kabul, Yassin is following in the footsteps of his father, playing, like him, at wedding parties and celebrations, and on the radio. Even after the Taleban’s fall, he says, speaking through a translator, “it’s very difficult because there are still people left in Afghanistan whose mentality is like before, and they don’t like music. It’s a bit difficult and scary, so we don’t go far from town”.

Musicians such as Yassin, who ply their trade in the cities, seldom go into rural areas, it is said. Stories proliferate of religious bans on wedding celebrations, and extremist bomb attacks aimed at music shops.

Other Kabul guests at Reel Afghanistan include Abdul Latif Ahmadi, now head of the state-run Afghan Film, where his staff hid film and tape from the national archive in ceilings and cellars rather than see it destroyed.

One of the surviving films will be screened. When the Taleban burned two shipping containers of tapes outside the Afghan Film office, only prints of Hindi and Russian films were inside. Footage of the 2,000-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas, destroyed on the orders of the Mullahs, was among those saved.

The Afghan director Siddiq Barmak is also travelling from Kabul to present a screening of Osama, which won the Golden Globe for best foreign film in 2004. It tells the story of a 12-year-old girl dressed by her widowed mother as a boy so she can work. Instead the child is sent to an all-male Taleban training school, renamed Osama.

Also showing is Voice of the Moon, a film shot behind mujahideen lines in 1989, after the Soviet troops had pulled out of Afghanistan and the Communist government was under siege. The film’s cameraman, Immo Horn, was wounded when he and director Richard Stanley came under mortar fire with the mujahideen outside Jallalabad.

The film is narrated with a poem.“It was the story of the people we encountered, the way of life of people in the war zone,” says Horn, who was carried bodily away from the front line by a mujahideen commander. I’m a real fan of any films that have been made ethnically in other countries. They have a different vision from our Western materialist vision.”

The Reel Afghanistan festival is mostly funded by the British Council, Scottish Screen and the Edinburgh University Settlement charity. Organisers Dan Gorman and film-maker Zahra Qadir were inspired to pull it together after they went to Afghanistan to make a documentary of their own in 2006.

“We were originally planning to do a festival in Kabul,” says Gorman, “but we thought it was equally valid to do it here, to spread more awareness of Afghanistan and its cultural history.”

“We met a lot of people who were desperate for alternative cinema in Afghanistan because everything they have there is Hollywood trash, and Bollywood trash,” adds Qadir. “We have set up this scheme for sending alternative films to Afghanistan, and this is part of that project.”

Yusuf Mahmoud is the music co-ordinator for Kharabat. He left Afghanistan in 1989, and lived in India for four years before moving to the UK, where he is now based, along with Kharabat’s vocalist. The four visiting players are living in his London flat and rehearsing nearby.

“We play the traditional music of Afghanistan, which is several different types of music,” he says. “We play Sufi music, popular music and we play classical Afghan music, which is similar to Indian classical.”

Like Yassin, Mohamed Khalid is following his father in playing the rubab. The instrument is like a short-necked lute made of mulberry wood, goatskin and goat-gut strings. Adil Shah plays the dolak and another traditional Afghan drum, the zirbaghali.

Mir Afghan is called one of the “last surviving” Afghan players of the tanbour, a long-necked lute. “With this opportunity for Mir Afghan to play in the West, I hope to encourage him to continue his work,” says Mahmud, “but also bring some attention to his instrument in Afghanistan, to encourage more young people in Afghanistan to take it up, so the art is not lost.”

The Reel Afghanistan festival runs until 8 March, with film screenings at the
Filmhouse and Cameo, and exhibitions and other events at the GRV, Edinburgh College of Art, the Filmhouse, the Bongo Club, The Forest and the University of Edinburgh.

For a full programme, visit http://www.reelafghanistan.org/.

[To know more about the tanbur and listen to a sample of music, visit the Tanbur Society's website http://www.tanbursociety.com/].

2 comments:

darvish said...

This is really a wonderful article :)

Thanks, as always, for posting it :)

Ya Haqq!

Adara said...

Very interesting post, I went to see Osama and I am going tonight to the concert http://msecchi.wordpress.com/2008/02/21/osama/

Friday, February 22, 2008

Reel Afghanistan
By Tim Cornwell - The Scotsman - Edinburgh, Scotland
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sylvester Stallone’s forgettable take on the Afghan revolt against Soviet occupiers, Rambo III, was made in the safety of Israel and Jordan.

The big-budget Russian film 9th Company, filmed in the Crimea by Fyodor Bondarchuk, tells the story of the same war through the eyes of young Russian recruits. It was embraced by strong-arm Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The two films are on offer at the Cameo this Sunday, in what must be one of the strangest double-bills in art cinema history – what makes it all the stranger is that they are part of a festival earnestly aimed at building awareness of the real Afghanistan.

Reel Afghanistan launches tomorrow [Thursday, Feb 21] in Edinburgh, claiming to be the UK’s first ever festival of Afghan cinema and culture, including music and exhibitions.

On Sunday night, on the heels of Rambo, Afghan musicians will stage a concert at the Queen’s Hall playing traditional music on instruments most of us have never heard of: the dilruba, the rubab, dolak and tanbour.Their appearance comes amid warnings that in the wake of the Taleban’s crackdown, and with continuing fear and hostility, these instruments and their players are in danger of becoming extinct.

The Afghan music ensemble Kharabat play on Sunday alongside the Qawali Sham Sufi group.

For Khabarat’s four Afghan players, simply getting to Britain was a task that made Amy Winehouse’s US travel troubles look trivial. The British Embassy in Kabul doesn’t hand out travel visas, so they had to go to Pakistan to apply.

They waited in a hotel nearly three weeks, running the gauntlet of suspicious local police. One, Mohamed Yassin, was arrested and relieved of his wallet; when he asked for the money back, he was simply slapped.

Yassin plays the dilruba, a sitar-like traditional instrument looking a lot more familiar than its name might imply, but with 15-18 strings and a similar number of frets, played with a bow. He is described as the only young dilruba player in Afghanistan.

The Taleban’s religious zealotry aimed at stamping out music, dance and song saw instruments destroyed or burned if they were not hidden away. Their players fled to Pakistan or further afield.

From a family of musicians centred on the Kharabat music quarter of Kabul, Yassin is following in the footsteps of his father, playing, like him, at wedding parties and celebrations, and on the radio. Even after the Taleban’s fall, he says, speaking through a translator, “it’s very difficult because there are still people left in Afghanistan whose mentality is like before, and they don’t like music. It’s a bit difficult and scary, so we don’t go far from town”.

Musicians such as Yassin, who ply their trade in the cities, seldom go into rural areas, it is said. Stories proliferate of religious bans on wedding celebrations, and extremist bomb attacks aimed at music shops.

Other Kabul guests at Reel Afghanistan include Abdul Latif Ahmadi, now head of the state-run Afghan Film, where his staff hid film and tape from the national archive in ceilings and cellars rather than see it destroyed.

One of the surviving films will be screened. When the Taleban burned two shipping containers of tapes outside the Afghan Film office, only prints of Hindi and Russian films were inside. Footage of the 2,000-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas, destroyed on the orders of the Mullahs, was among those saved.

The Afghan director Siddiq Barmak is also travelling from Kabul to present a screening of Osama, which won the Golden Globe for best foreign film in 2004. It tells the story of a 12-year-old girl dressed by her widowed mother as a boy so she can work. Instead the child is sent to an all-male Taleban training school, renamed Osama.

Also showing is Voice of the Moon, a film shot behind mujahideen lines in 1989, after the Soviet troops had pulled out of Afghanistan and the Communist government was under siege. The film’s cameraman, Immo Horn, was wounded when he and director Richard Stanley came under mortar fire with the mujahideen outside Jallalabad.

The film is narrated with a poem.“It was the story of the people we encountered, the way of life of people in the war zone,” says Horn, who was carried bodily away from the front line by a mujahideen commander. I’m a real fan of any films that have been made ethnically in other countries. They have a different vision from our Western materialist vision.”

The Reel Afghanistan festival is mostly funded by the British Council, Scottish Screen and the Edinburgh University Settlement charity. Organisers Dan Gorman and film-maker Zahra Qadir were inspired to pull it together after they went to Afghanistan to make a documentary of their own in 2006.

“We were originally planning to do a festival in Kabul,” says Gorman, “but we thought it was equally valid to do it here, to spread more awareness of Afghanistan and its cultural history.”

“We met a lot of people who were desperate for alternative cinema in Afghanistan because everything they have there is Hollywood trash, and Bollywood trash,” adds Qadir. “We have set up this scheme for sending alternative films to Afghanistan, and this is part of that project.”

Yusuf Mahmoud is the music co-ordinator for Kharabat. He left Afghanistan in 1989, and lived in India for four years before moving to the UK, where he is now based, along with Kharabat’s vocalist. The four visiting players are living in his London flat and rehearsing nearby.

“We play the traditional music of Afghanistan, which is several different types of music,” he says. “We play Sufi music, popular music and we play classical Afghan music, which is similar to Indian classical.”

Like Yassin, Mohamed Khalid is following his father in playing the rubab. The instrument is like a short-necked lute made of mulberry wood, goatskin and goat-gut strings. Adil Shah plays the dolak and another traditional Afghan drum, the zirbaghali.

Mir Afghan is called one of the “last surviving” Afghan players of the tanbour, a long-necked lute. “With this opportunity for Mir Afghan to play in the West, I hope to encourage him to continue his work,” says Mahmud, “but also bring some attention to his instrument in Afghanistan, to encourage more young people in Afghanistan to take it up, so the art is not lost.”

The Reel Afghanistan festival runs until 8 March, with film screenings at the
Filmhouse and Cameo, and exhibitions and other events at the GRV, Edinburgh College of Art, the Filmhouse, the Bongo Club, The Forest and the University of Edinburgh.

For a full programme, visit http://www.reelafghanistan.org/.

[To know more about the tanbur and listen to a sample of music, visit the Tanbur Society's website http://www.tanbursociety.com/].

2 comments:

darvish said...

This is really a wonderful article :)

Thanks, as always, for posting it :)

Ya Haqq!

Adara said...

Very interesting post, I went to see Osama and I am going tonight to the concert http://msecchi.wordpress.com/2008/02/21/osama/