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From Canada to Kabul: Afghan singer seeks to restore music education

From Canada to Kabul: Afghan singer seeks to restore music education

Amir Jan Saboori, one of the leading figures in Afghan folk music, has returned from his adopted home in Canada to visit Afghanistan in a bid to start music schools and to safeguard the future of traditional Afghan music.
15 August 2005
Singer Amir Jan Saboori (left) is back in Kabul after spending more than a decade in exile in Uzbekistan and Canada.

KABUL, August 15 (UNHCR) - His songs evoke the harsh beauty of his native Afghanistan, a country he fled more than 12 years ago, but they were composed in a green and tidy suburb of Toronto, Canada, where he now lives. Like his music, Amir Jan Saboori is a man capable of crossing boundaries, maintaining links with his past while embarking on a new life in what initially seemed like a strange and distant land.

Among his admirers in Afghanistan and Afghan communities around the world, Saboori is considered one of the leading figures in Afghan folk music. A new CD titled "This is Life" is his first release since seeking refuge from his country's civil war more than a decade ago.

"For an entire month, I hid in a basement because of the rockets landing everywhere in the city," he says, recalling the months before he fled the violence for Uzbekistan. There, he registered with UNHCR and lived for 11 years with his wife and three children. Then came the offer to relocate to Canada.

"It was hard at first, especially for the children," he says of the initial days in Canada. "They were attending a new school, they didn't speak English and they had to try and make new friends. I had an easier time as I was immediately welcomed by the Afghan community. But now the kids speak English very well and are always eager to go to school each morning."

Back in Afghanistan for a personal visit, Saboori points to his children's attachment to their new home and the warm welcome his family has received in Canada as reasons why they have no immediate plans to return to their homeland. But he remains committed to helping to rebuild Afghanistan.

"For me, being back home is not simply about being here physically and meeting my friends and relatives. I may not live here any longer, but helping this nation is still my responsibility, particularly in the field of music."

The study and practice of traditional Afghan music suffered during Afghanistan's decades of conflict. During the years of the Taliban, music of any kind was strictly forbidden.

While in Afghanistan, Saboori is meeting with government officials and academics in an effort to create music schools where a new generation can learn about the traditions of Afghan music while safeguarding its future.

"The best way to help strengthen the field of music in Afghanistan is to establish schools where musicians both living here and in other countries can come together and exchange ideas," he says.

Nearly 4 million Afghans have made the journey home since UNHCR began its voluntary repatriation programme in 2002, following the fall of the Taliban.

Although Saboori has opted to stay in Canada for now, he remains committed to the development of Afghanistan. And he is convinced that all Afghans have a role to play. As he says in one of his songs: "Whether you are near or far, let's put our hands together to rebuild this nation."

By Nader Farhad