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Dec 6 2023

Woman’s Journey in Afghan Music Study: Fieldwork in a Burka


Lecture by Dr. Razia Sultanova
Research Fellow, Cambridge Muslim College
Honorary Professor, Eurasian International University, Bishkek
Visiting Professor, Charles University, Prague

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, positioned at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, underwent a significant transformation in August 2021 as it fell under the control of the Taliban-2. This group has gained notoriety for its blatant disregard of the rights of ethnic and sexual minorities, particularly with respect to gender. The well-documented oppression of women includes egregious violations of human rights, such as the prohibition of women from hosting TV programs, mandatory wearing of the Burqa, and restrictions on independent movement without male accompaniment, exemplifying the harsh policies reminiscent of the 1st Taliban era. Another painful innovation is the ban on TV and radio stations from broadcasting music. Meanwhile, sermons or readings of the Koran, Islam's holy book, have replaced the songs once heard at weddings. Hundreds of musicians have fled Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021. This presentation delves into the resilience of normal social and religious life amidst ongoing turmoil, questioning the potential for art and culture to flourish in such an environment. Amidst the challenging circumstances, the inquiry extends to the sustainability of the rich tapestry of traditional music through the current conflict. Drawing on eyewitness accounts, personal contacts, and conversations with Afghan citizens obtained during my fieldwork, conducted discreetly while wearing a Burqa, this examination seeks to unravel these fundamental questions.

Dr. Razia Sultanova is a distinguished musicologist and social scientist with an esteemed international reputation. She holds a degree from the Uzbek State Conservatory and earned her Ph.D. from Moscow State Conservatory. Dr. Sultanova has served as a Research Fellow at Goldsmith's College and the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Currently, she holds the position of Visiting Professor at Charles University, Prague, and serves as the Chair of the ICTM Study Group on Global Music. In addition to these roles, she serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia of the Turkic-Speaking World and holds research fellowships at Sarajevo University and the Cambridge Muslim College. Dr. Sultanova has authored several significant studies, including "From Shamanism to Sufism: Women, Islam, and Culture in Central Asia" (2014), "Why Women Sing: Female Performance in Traditional Societies" (2021), and "Afghanistan Dispossessed: Women, Culture, and the Taliban" (2023). Her diverse body of work reflects a deep commitment to exploring the intersection of music, culture, and gender in various societies.

Part of the Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy Colloquium Series, this event is sponsored by The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music Department of Ethnomusicology.