SOAS University of London

Centre of Contemporary Central Asia & the Caucasus

Anthony Hyman Memorial Lecture: The Place of Music in Afghanistan Today

John Baily
Professor John Baily (Afghanistan Music Unit)

Date: 5 March 2018Time: 6:30 PM

Finishes: 5 March 2018Time: 9:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: DLT

Type of Event: Annual Lecture


In the seemingly endless conflict that has devastated Afghanistan for the last 40 years, one might ask, ‘What’s so important about music when there are so many other pressing concerns to be addressed?’ In answer, one might reply that music does matter, for, as John Blacking put it so forcefully, ‘music is essential for the very survival of man's humanity’ (How Musical is Man? 1976: 54). 

After a period of relative stability and modernization in the 1950s and 60s, a time when music thrived in state-owned Radio Kabul, there was a relentless increase in pressure against music, a process that started in the refugee camps in Pakistan following the Communist coup and the Soviet invasion, with increasing censorship of music during the Coalition period 1992 to 1996, and the downright religious persecution of musicians during the Taliban era. If there was a slow buildup to this state of affairs, recovery since 2001 has not been rapid and is far from complete, especially in areas where Islamist influence prevails. Nevertheless, significant progress has been made and this lecture will examine, amongst other initiatives, the role of two important musical educational institutions in Kabul, the Aga Khan Music Initiative’s tradition bearers programme, established to consolidate practical knowledge of Afghan art music, and the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, a co-educational vocational music school that embraces the teaching of Western, Indian and Afghan music. The lecture will conclude with a consideration of the significance of the first National Folkloric Music Seminar and Festival, held in Kabul in 2011.

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The Place of Music in Afghanistan Today (Professor John Baily)

Speaker Biography

John Baily is Emeritus Professor of Ethnomusicology and Head of the Afghanistan Music Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London. Prior to joining Goldsmiths, he was Lecturer in Ethnomusicology at Queen’s University Belfast, and Associate Professor in the Center for Ethnomusicology, Columbia University, New York.

(Photo credit: Liliane de Toledo, Geneva, 2011)

A reception will be held after the lecture in the Cloisters Area of the Paul Webley Wing (Senate House)

Please register here.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus

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Sponsor: Central Asian Survey