19 April 2010

Throughout the MyWar exhibition, FACT will be publishing guest blog posts from looking at war and politics in the media. Andrew Ross is a, "23 year-old, MA student in Politics and Cinema..."
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After September 11, 2001, a team of elite U.S. Delta Force commandos was sent into Afghanistan with an assignment to find and kill Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora — but that mission failed. The rest, as they say is history. A full scale invasion has followed, involving both full American and British forces, and a NATO Coalition force, this all started no less than nine years ago, and still, no end in sight. Nevertheless, for the people of Afghanistan life has gone on, despite a preposterous amount of civilian casualties, often, which in my view, are nauseatingly distinguished as ‘collateral damage’.
 
Less than a decade ago many forms of music were banned in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Following Coalition efforts to remove the Taliban from power in central government, the restrictions on music were lifted. In view of the fact that then, music has gradually returned to Afghanistan, and with it, a melodic revolution has played out. ‘Afghan Star’, Afghanistan’s version of the X-Factor, and American Idol, and the countless versions seen worldwide have played a part in this melodic revolution. Indeed, the three main ethnic groups in Afghanistan, Pashtuns, Hazaras, and Tajiks, have all been represented with the three finalists chosen for the show, which in Afghanistan has now reached its fourth series.
 
‘Afghan Star’ has become one of the most popular shows in Afghanistan. Similar to the X-Factor, a panel of 'experts' judges contestants. Unlike X-Factor, comments are honest, but kind, obviously they don’t have a Simon Cowell on board. The show starts with flashing white lights, pumping music, and then the host, Sediqi comes on stage and announced, “In the name of God - hello.” The contestants are less animated than our audience would be accustomed with, hardly moving at all as they sing, and wearing conservative attire. Their song choices consist of traditional Afghan songs that include flowery poetry. Furthermore, the winner receives around £2,000 cash and a record deal.
 
Havana Marking’s documentary highlights all of this, the intricacies of the show; nevertheless, she attempts to centre her film around the notion that the show is in fact a new and important social event. Through interviews with the contestants, fans, and production staff, the director assembles an intriguing look into the making of a popular sensation in a country where what we would call popular culture had been banned for decades by Taliban rule.
 
Nonetheless, the film isn’t simply a rosy justification that our version of popular culture has saved all; there are many moments that clearly contradict the implication that “freedom” has arrived in Kabul. In fact, most of the film confirms that the overwhelming majority of Afghanis continue to live in crushing poverty and are struggle to come to terms with living in a war-zone for the past decade and still living with the Taliban, which exerts an obvious force in many areas in Afghanistan.
 
Marking’s film humanizes the conflict in Afghanistan. She gives us the faces we don’t see and the tales we don’t hear in newspaper about soldiers, insurgents, and conflict. So for this she must be congratulated. However, the film may try to offer a hopeful message about the power of music to unite people and bring joy to a country, but of course this isn’t ‘Footloose’ and music alone cannot set the people of Afghanistan free.
 
P.S. You can actually, if you live in the UK watch the documentary legally online via the ‘4oD’ website. Just click on this link.