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Afghanistan concert, ‘Songs of Hope’ – Raising spirits and money with Barbican date and reviving the Rubâb…

Afghanistan concert, ‘Songs of Hope’ – Raising spirits and money with Barbican date and reviving the Rubâb…

Celebrated musicians to perform music from Afghanistan in London together…

By Mamie Colfox

FEW PEOPLE know about the rich musical heritage of Afghanistan – and the ongoing humanitarian crisis there has now sparked both a bid to raise money and let people share the joy of its musical traditions.

Called ‘Songs of Hope: A Benefit Concert’, it will take place at the Barbican in London on Saturday, January 22 and will raise funds for Afghanistan and is backed by three charities, Emergency, Learn and MMCC (see more below for what this charity does in Afghanistan.) The concert is being organised by Afghanistan International, a media company that broadcasts news about the country.

Homayoun Sakhi playing the Rubab picture:©Zoubir Ali

Jay Visvadeva, a long-time Indian classical music producer, who is helping to promote the concert, told why he felt the concert was important.

“We just have to mobilise people into action – people need a lift. We need public support and this will provide inspiration, and it will also definitely help the artistic communities there as well.”

Currently, aid agencies are warning of a dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, as food and other essential items are in scarce supply and winter temperatures are exacerbating already difficult living conditions. The UN said today (Jnauary 11) that $5 billion (£4bn) is needed to avoid catastrophe.

Since the Taliban seized power in the summer, foreign aid has slumped, much of the economy has collapsed and there are increasing concerns about child malnutrition and poor health, water and sanitation.

Shahbaz Hussain on tabla

“We really need to do something to help the people,” Visvadeva implored. “This concert showcases two brilliant musicians and expresses our solidarity and care and compassion for the ordinary people of the country.”

The Rubâb is an ancient instrument that is believed to have originated from Afghanistan and is a lute-like structure that is widely regarded as the country’s national instrument.

Homayoun Sakhi is an outstanding Rubâb player and will be accompanied by Shahbaz Hussain – widely recognised as one of Europe’s leading tabla players. The pair will perform classical, traditional and folk music for ‘Songs of Hope’.

Sakhi was born into one of the country’s best known musical families and learnt the Rubâb by the age of 10 under the instruction of his father, Gustad Ghulam Sakhi.

Homayun Sakhi’s Rubâb ©Jay Blakesberg/Retna LTD.

Afghan-born Sakhi moved from Kabul to Peshawar initially and plays in a unique classical style, one which has survived censorship during Afghanistan’s many years of conflict and repression. He began his professional career in earnest in Pakistan where he became a prominent figure, appearing on radio and TV.

In 2001, he moved to the US and began to teach traditional music, specialising in the once forgotten Rubâb and taking inspiration from other instruments such as the sitar, violin and guitar and putting the musical device centre stage – and no longer confining it just to accompaniment or the margins.

Like Sakhi, Shahbaz Hussain was first taught by his father, Ustad Mumtaz Hussain, before learning his trade from various gurus: The Delhi gharana (school), Ustad Faiyaz Khan, and the Punjab gharana’s Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan and Ustad Allah Rakha. This helped him to develop his eclectic style, and he headed the fusion group Indus, and accompanied classical artists on their tours. Now, Shabaz teaches tabla in the North of England.

Visvadeva is very conscious of omicron but says the concert at the Barbican will adhere to all covid protocols.

“People are leaving the house to see friends, they are going shopping, so they might as well go to the concert!”

MMCC principally provide free medical and surgical healthcare to victims of war, landmines and poverty, help teach digital literacy to teachers and young girls, and educate millions of children on key issues in Afghanistan.

Songs of Hope, Saturday, January 22, 7.30pm. The Barbican Centre, Barbican Hall, Silk Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8DS.

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture