Connect to share and comment

Afghans, they're just like us

The younger generation is rejecting traditional music for modern, some say immoral, Western pop.

Colombian pop singer Shakira performs during the "Rock in Rio" music festival in Arganda del Rey, near Madrid July 4, 2008. She is a favorite among young Afghans, if only for her physical attributes. (Juan Medina/Reuters)

HERAT — Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll: It’s the young person’s menu of choice the world over. Afghanistan, the land of endless war and timeless values, is no exception.

While the older generation bemoans the death of traditional culture, teenagers are happily swapping music videos of titillating singers whose lyrics they may not understand, but whose provocative movements need no translation.

“Shakira has a beautiful body,” sighed Nasir, a 10th grader in Herat, the ancient city in western Afghanistan that many would classify as the country’s cultural capital. He was watching a clip of the Colombian star on his mobile phone. “She is intoxicating.”

In deeply conservative Afghanistan, where a few inches of ankle can set tongues wagging and eyes sparkling, it is understandable why young men admire the scantily clad diva. Nasir and his friends are part of a growing movement in Afghanistan that sees young people rejecting the traditional music of their fathers’ generation in favor of something a bit more contemporary.

“I believe the time for listening to old music is over,” Nasir said. “Young people are looking for something new and interesting. There is nothing we need in the old stuff.”

Not so, says the older generation, for whom the catchy couplets of “Hips Don’t Lie” are a poor substitute for love songs made from the 13th-century words of the poet Rumi.

“This new music is very weak,” said Hafizullah Gardesh, a well known singer and musician: “It is not good for poetry, not good for language, not good for anything. Young people like it for only one reason: it is sexy.”

Well, exactly.

Afghans love their music. One of the main objections ordinary people had to the Taliban regime was the fundamentalists’ prohibition of any singing that did not involve their own a cappella war chants.

“Weddings were like funerals under the Taliban,” said Abdul Qadir, 28, a Herati shopkeeper.

Traditional Afghan music is based largely on poetry performed to the accompaniment of the stringed rebab, the drum-like tabla and the harmonium. It is haunting and beautiful, but unlikely to spice up a teenager’s weekend.

With the opening up of Afghanistan in 2001, when the U.S.-led invasion chased the Taliban off to a safer distance, young people are gaining access to the wider world through television, the internet and the pirated music videos for sale in shops all over the country.

What they are seeing provides a welcome contrast to what they get at home.