In 2014, a young female Afghani trumpeter called Meena wanted something. She approached the director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) asking for something that had never occurred before in Afghanistan – an opportunity for young women like Meena to learn and play music.
ANIM director Dr Sarmast was thrilled by the idea, as it strongly aligned with the ANIM’s focus of girls’ education. Thus the Afghan Women’s Orchestra was born.
Named Zohra, after the music goddess in Persian literature, the ensemble is made up of 30 female musicians aged between 13-20 years of age. The musicians rehearse twice a week, with more intensive rehearsals before concerts.
Earlier this year, Zohra performed at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Orchestra member Negin Ekhpulwak says their orchestra is an example of how women’s rights are changing in Afghanistan,“We want to tell the other countries that the Afghan woman can do everything,” she said.”We want freedom in Afghanistan for the women and we want peace.”
Under Taliban rule, playing music in public was banned in Afghanistan between 1996 to 2001. Even without this ban, it is still frowned upon by many for girls to play music in what remains a gender-segregated nation.
Zohra Conductor, Zarifa Abida, says that their experience shows the power of music to bring people together, ”The experience that I have gotten in this ensemble was unity, love, hope and more than anything, never give up.”
Learn more about the Zohra Orchestra, and the ANIM by visiting their website