Afghan female orchestra strikes closing note at Davos

The Afghan Women’s Orchestra “Zohra” performs at the closing ceremony of the 47th annual meeting of the WEF in Davos, Switzerland, Friday. (AP)
Updated 21 January 2017

Afghan female orchestra strikes closing note at Davos

DAVOS, Switzerland: Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra brought the curtain down on this year’s World Economic Forum on Friday with a culture-crossing performance that overcame tradition and death threats in their homeland.
Zohra, an ensemble of 35 young musicians aged 13 to 20, some orphans or from poor families, performed before a Davos audience more in tune with talk of deal-making than the strains of Afghan classical music.
Some sat on the floor, barefoot and cross-legged, some on chairs, all in traditional dress with head-scarves, as they performed a mix of Western and South Asian instruments: stringed, wind and percussion.
The program itself fused the two musical traditions, and included a moving rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the anthem of European unity. Behind them was a photo backdrop showing a snow-capped mountain range that could have passed for the Swiss Alps or the Hindu Kush.
Conducted by Negina Khpalwak, who will be celebrating her 20th birthday on the return flight from Europe, the girls have overcome death threats and discrimination in the deeply conservative war-torn country to play together.
Ahmad Sarmast, the musicologist who founded Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music and the Zohra orchestra, expressed his profound pride as his charges took the Davos stage.
He told the audience that they represented a “beacon of hope,” and embodied “the positive changes that have accumulated in the last 13 years” since a US-led invasion drove the Taliban from power.
At 18, Zohra violinist Zarifa Adiba has already performed at Carnegie Hall in New York and before coming to Europe, expressed hope that she might get to meet her heroine Michelle Obama in Davos.
The outgoing US first lady was in fact attending the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump as the concert concluded a week of corporate networking, strategising and partying in the Swiss ski resort.


Baghdad tunnel becomes a museum for Iraq’s protest movement

Updated 22 November 2019

Baghdad tunnel becomes a museum for Iraq’s protest movement

  • The Saadoun Tunnel has become an ad hoc museum for Iraq’s massive anti-government protest movement
  • Haydar Mohammed said, “We decided to draw simple paintings to support our protester brothers and to express our message, which is a peace message.”

BAGHDAD: The images are both haunting and inspiring, transforming a once dreary, grim underpass into a vivid, colorful wall of art.
“We want a nation, not a prison,” says one painting that depicts a man bursting free from behind bars. “Plant a revolution, and you will harvest a nation,” reads another showing a hand flashing the victory sign over protesters heads.
Some of the messages are less sentimental. “Look at us, Americans, this is all your fault,” declares one.
The Saadoun Tunnel has become an ad hoc museum for Iraq’s massive anti-government protest movement. Along its walls, young artists draw murals, portraits and graffiti that illustrate the country’s tortured past and the Iraq they aspire to.
The tunnel passes under Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests where thousands of people are camped out in a giant sit-in that has taken on the feel of a vibrant mini-city.
Almost daily, clashes erupt with security forces not far away firing tear gas, live rounds and stun grenades to prevent protesters from crossing bridges over the Tigris River to the Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government. Tuk tuks — three-wheeled motorcycle transports — often zip back and forth through the Saadoun Tunnel, rushing wounded protesters from the front lines to medical clinics.
Saadoun Tunnel, the tuk tuks, the square and a nearby 14-story Saddam Hussein-era building on the Tigris that protesters took over have all become symbols of what has become the largest grassroots protest movement Iraq has seen. The protests erupted Oct. 1 over longstanding grievances at corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services and quickly escalated into calls to sweep aside Iraq’s sectarian system imposed after the 2003 US invasion and its entire political elite.
Young protesters, men and women, throng the tunnel — actually a long underpass, most of which is open to the air except for enclosed portions directly beneath Tahrir — and pass time there hanging out or taking selfies in front of the murals. Caricatures on the walls mock Iraqi politicians; other paintings praise the tuk tuks; a woman with an Iraqi flag on her cheek flexes her bicep, recreating the famed US “We Can Do It” poster; faces in drawings shout in anger or pain.
Haydar Mohammed said he and a group of other medical students were partly responsible for the murals. They met in Tahrir and saw the tunnels walls were a perfect medium to send a message to those who are suspicious of the protesters, he said.
“We are life-makers not death-makers,” he said. “We decided to draw simple paintings to support our protester brothers and to express our message, which is a peace message.”
Many of the murals carry calls for anti-sectarianism, peace and a free Iraq. In one painting, a little girl cries, declaring “They killed my dream,” referring to the group of men behind her, some in religious clothes.
Another shows an Iraqi protester wearing a helmet against tear gas with the Arabic words: “In the heart is something that cannot be killed by guns, which is the nation.” Nearby is scrawled, in English, “All What I want is life.”
“Sitting in front of these portraits, people and candles is better than being in any coffeeshop. Every time I look at them I am hopeful that the revolution will not end,” said Yahya Mohammed, 32, smoking a hookah in the tunnel and observing the scene.
“This tunnel gives me hope.”