New Beginnings, New Stars
Decades of war, on-going civil strife, corruption, and poverty are what most people think of when considering life in Afghanistan. But there is a whole other side to life here, one of music, artistic expression, hope, and even fame.
Afghanistan’s award-winning television programme, Afghan Star, is changing the face of the country, and the lives of the nation’s young people. The most watched, talked about, and controversial show in the country recalls Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage and historical love of poetry and music, and is single-handedly revamping the musical and artistic inspiration and talent of a people so long culturally repressed. The show’s organisers, Tolo TV, believe with this programme, they can move people ‘from guns to music’.
Following well established international TV formats such as British Pop Idol or the French Nouvelle Star and their many spinoffs, Afghan Star, now in its 7th season, is an independently produced reality TV show that searches for the most talented young singers in Afghanistan. Contestant voting takes place by SMS, and for many, this is the first time they have encountered democracy through voting where all are equal. This is a highly radical idea in a country which still operates on a male-dominated, tribal elder system.
Not only inspirational for the nation’s youth, many of Afghan Star’s judges are renowned poets, composers, and older members of Afghanistan’s foreign-educated literati, most of whom spread themselves far and wide during the Afghan diaspora.
Contestant auditions take place in almost all of the country’s major cities, and the show regularly attracts 11 million viewers per episode. In its fourth season, Afghan Star viewers voted Kandahar native, Lima Sahar, as that season’s winner. This placed the 18-year old severely under threat for her life, as she found herself in the middle of the nation’s continuous gender struggle. Hailing from one of the country’s most conservative provinces, Lima was the first female Pashtun to reach the finals, and ultimately, win.
For Lima, and so many like her, Afghan Star, provides hope for the future as well as defiance against continued repression; it is a political statement in song.
Capturing the imagination of foreign film-makers, Afghan Star – The Documentary, was filmed during the shows’ 2009 season. This documentary follows the three month process from regional auditions to the final contest in Kabul. Viewers gain behind the scenes access to the lives of contestants, fans, and producers. The British-produced film went on to win two awards at the Sundance Film Festival.
Throughout history, mankind has expressed itself and gained joy though music and song. Today’s modern, Afghan youth are no exception.