Ensemble Kaboul Brings Afghan Music to Salem

Note: Willamette staff, faculty and students can purchase tickets at the Music Department. Faculty and staff tickets are $12; student tickets are $3. Community members may purchase tickets at all Safeway TicketsWest outlets or by calling 1-800-992-8499. (There may be a service charge.) Tickets are $20 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. (11 October 2005)

Ensemble Kaboul, with special guest Ustad Farida MahwashThe Grace Goudy Distinguished Artist Series will feature Ensemble Kaboul, with special guest Ustad Farida Mahwash, Monday, Nov. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the Mary Stuart Rogers Music Center at Willamette University.

Ensemble Kaboul combines the talents of six exiled Afghan musicians, weaving together traditional Indian, Persian, Arabic and tribal traditions to form rich, multi-textured music. Their performances blend poetic love songs, folk tunes and raga-like classical music, and feature hand percussion and flute-like and stringed instruments.

The group was recognized by BBC Radio with a World Music Award in 2003.

"No nation in recent history has suffered as greatly as Afghanistan," said the BBC's Garth Cartwright. "And amongst the many tribulations that nation's citizens had to endure was the banning of all music--both making and playing--by the Taliban." The post 9/11 removal of the Taliban led to a surge of interest in Afghan arts, Cartwright said. "Mahwash and Ensemble Kaboul are the best exemplars of Afghanistan's traditional musical aesthetic."

The Salem performance features Ustad Farida Mahwash, a powerhouse singer who was given the honorary title, "Ustad," meaning "master." No woman in the history of Afghanistan had been called "Ustad," until Mahwash came along. She got her unexpected start while working as a typist at a radio station. When the radio director broadcast her songs during the 1960s and '70s, her popularity led to a loosening of laws banning public performances by women.

"It's an honor to represent Afghan women, whose voices have been suffocated," Mahwash said.

Music making was also disrupted by the Afghan-Soviet conflict that began in 1979 and ended 20 years later.

"Afghanistan has suffered 23 years of war," said Ensemble Kaboul leader Khaled Arman. "Most of the musicians have not survived. I don't mean they died in combat. I mean they suffered psychological trauma. They couldn't stand the weight of war and emigration. Now some of our instruments are disappearing because nobody is able to play them."

The troupe's exiled musicians have yet to play in Kaboul.

"Ensemble Kaboul not only brings rich, beautiful music to international audiences, but it is preserving one of the oldest musical traditions in the world," said Pam Moro, anthropology professor at Willamette.

Tickets are $20 for adults and $12 for students and seniors and can be purchased at the Music Department at Willamette. People may also contact TicketsWest at 1-800-992-8499 or (There may be a service charge.) Call Moro at 503-370-6645 for more information.

The public is invited to a free lecture Thursday, Nov. 10, at 12:45 p.m. in the Hatfield Room at the Hatfield Library at the University. Moro will introduce the audience to Afghani music, and will discuss the impact of politics on performance in Afghanistan as well as broader issues related to music and censorship.