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Afghanistan, music and migration

From the 1940s until 1978 when the civil war began, Radio Afghanistan in Kabul was the focus for modern, popular and innovative music made by Afghan men and women from all over the country. Since then, in addition to war, a ban on music by the Taliban, and the migration of Afghan refugees have changed the face of the music scene in Afghanistan. As a result the centre of music-making, production and circulation has moved to diaspora communities particularly in Pakistan, the UK, US, Canada and Germany. Exiled musicians, followed by a second generation of young Afghans have sustained earlier folk and classical traditions but also fused these with other musical styles. They have performed at weddings, festivals and concerts within the Afghan community and have circulated their music around the diaspora and back to Afghanistan on CD and, increasingly, online.

Musical instrument

From research by Professor John Baily, Afghanistan Music Unit, Goldsmiths

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World music

This term was first coined in a pub in North London in 1987. A group of journalists and people from independent record companies met to discuss how to market the different kinds of traditional and popular music from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean that were beginning to be played in Britain. They decided on ‘world music’, a genre that was picked up quickly by the BBC and that soon became a recognised brand.

Conga players

Although world music was often ‘discovered’ and brought to Europe by Western musicians who went to Africa and Asia in search of new sounds, it started life with artists from other parts of the world, some of whom then travelled to perform and record their work in cities like Paris, Berlin and London. 
These transnational professionals move to different countries for work, sometimes in connection with diasporic communities, but often just with a small group of other musicians, producers and agents. Many retain links with home and use the profits of their work to support the local music industry, opportunities for young people or other development projects. 

Rishi Rich Mumzy Stranger

More more on this topic, see TN Mundi

Moving music


Music evokes powerful memories and feelings of attachment to family and friends, past events, locations and different stages of life. It can transport us in heart and mind to other times and places. It is also highly mobile. Songs and instrumental music can be carried in the memories of musicians – professional and amateur – as they migrate from the countryside to the city or from one country to another. Also, technological developments in the last few decades have enabled music to be recorded, copied and downloaded electronically at great speed so that diasporic communities can share their favourite music wherever they live.

John Baily and Veronica Doubleday The case of Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora suggests that music travels more easily than people.  Migrants may be in exile or faced with closed borders or the red tape of immigration regulations, but music crosses political boundaries without difficulty. 

Veronica Doubleday, voice and daireh, and John Baily, Afghan rubab


Its content  may have political significance too.  Its lyrics may voice criticisms of regimes back home or in the new context; they may break religious taboos or challenge authorised teachings.

The mutual influence of different types of music from different places brings about innovative fusions and hybrids. There have always been some people who want to keep traditional music ‘pure’, but there are many more who want to create something new by mixing up voices, instruments and styles.  Bhangra music in the UK had its origins in Punjabi folk songs with dhol drumming, circulated with the help of Bollywood videos and tapes, and performed as dance music for weddings. Pioneer bands, such as Alaap and Heera, popularised it. Synthesizers, drum machines and scratching were added, and hip-hop and other dance styles influenced it in its journey from private family events to the club and DJ scene and the celebrity careers of stars such as Punjabi MC and Rishi Rich.

TN Mundi concert
© TNMundi
In October 2009 a unique event was held at the Turner Sims Concert Hall of Southampton University which brought together Malagasy and North African musicians.