Afghan's only female conductor an instrument for change


One teenager in Afghanistan has gone against tradition, her family's wishes, and even braved violent threats, just to play music.

Instruments and any kind of music-making had been banned under Taliban rule but for some girls the right to take part, even now, is still a struggle.

Negin Khpalwak loves music but few teenagers have had to battle so fiercely to pursue their passion.

"Apart from my father, everybody in the family is against me playing music. They say, 'How can a Pashtun girl play music?' Especially in our tribe where even a man doesn't have the right to play music."

The 19-year-old is originally from Kunar Province and began her musical journey by learning the piano in secret.

She eventually revealed her hobby to her father who was encouraging, but the rest of her conservative Pashtun family wanted her to stop.

Now she's the only female orchestra conductor in Afghanistan.

"Through music I have seen lots of changes in my life," Ms Khpalwak says.

"Music has changed my personality; my life has changed."

Ms Khpalwak moved to Kabul 10 years ago so she could keep studying music. Now she leads 35 girls and women in the Zohra orchestra.

But they've caused a stir.

When Ms Khpalwak went home to her village, her uncles and brothers threatened to beat her up.

Playing instruments was banned under Taliban rule and even now some parts of society frown on most forms of music.

Ahmad Naser Sarmast is a musicologist who returned to Afghanistan from Australia in 2010 to try and change those attitudes.

"By educating people and promoting arts and culture in the community, I strongly believe that we will be seen changing the most radical forces of this country."

For Ms Khpalwak too music isn't just a passion, it's also an instrument for change.