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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

Ensemble Zohra, Afghan Women’s Orchestra

htlsspeakersbio Updated: Nov 09, 2017 17:27 IST
Hindustan Times
Hindustan Times

Afghanistan has seen over three decades of war brought about by political turmoil and religious extremism, resulting in widespread poverty and an inequitable society on many fronts, particularly in regards to women and girls. Before the war, women shared equal opportunity with men in edu-cation and the workforce, and contributed enormously to the cultural fabric of the nation. Yet in recent decades, it has been the women of Afghanistan that have traditionally experienced the most severe pressures of inequality, suffering, and injustice. Even today, an entire generation of women continue to face many challenges which are compounded by oppression, discrimination and lack of opportunity.

However, at Afghanistan’s only music school, over seventy-five young women between the ages of eight and twenty are defying the odds to attain an education and play music together. These are students of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), founded by Dr. Ahmad Sarmast under jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. These brave girls are the first women in their fami-lies, communities, and country to learn music in over thirty years.

A beacon of hope to many, ANIM provides music and general education to hundreds of Afghan children regardless of their gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or socio-economic circumstances. Within this co-educational environment — a rarity in Afghanistan — one of ANIM’s leading com-mitments is to empower girls through music. Since its inaugural days in 2010, the enrolment of girls has risen to one-third of the student body and they have become an integral and important part of both the academic and social framework of the school. Thirty of these remarkable students are members of the Zohra Orchestra.

In early 2015, the Zohra Orchestra was formed. Initially a small group of four girls, it soon grew into what is now a twenty-nine piece orchestra, comprised of both Western classical and traditional Afghan instruments. As the ensemble grew, so did the need for a conductor, and pianist Negin Khpolwak stepped up and raised the baton. Her leadership and initiative has inspired many other ANIM female students to engage further in areas of conducting and composition, as well as foster-ing a collective confidence towards public performance. In 2017, after two years of dedicated work, Zohra Orchestra embarked on their first international tour; they performed in four cities be-tween Germany and Switzerland, with a highlighted performance at the closing ceremony of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Since their return to Afghanistan, despite the fear of threats, the members of Zohra Orchestra have continued to work towards sharing their inspiring stories with musicians and audiences around the world. They have received many concert offers both within Afghanistan and internationally and continue to be dedicated ambassadors of peace by presenting a positive image of Afghanistan to the rest of the world.

For more information about Zohra Orchestra, please visit:

For more information about ANIM and programs, please visit:

First Published: Nov 08, 2017 18:23 IST