Saving and Revitalisation:

The SAFAR Project


Aspects of Identity

Safar to the Hindu Kusch:

Weimar musicologists support Afghan musicians in reviving theirtraditions


Everything began in 2011 with a visit to the Winter Academy of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), one of the three establishments in Afghanistan where music is taught on an institutional level. The Weimar musicologist Philip Küppers taught a two-week course here. He was excited about this music that the old masters – so-called Ustads – played here once again, because during the terror-reign of the Taliban, music was forbidden. As a result, the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar has been collaborating with ANIM since 2012 on the Safar project. The most recent development was the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Kabul University. Project-Director Philip Küppers offers Liszt Magazine detailed insights into this German-Afghan undertaking.

The auditorium is full. Over 100 teachers and students of the Ka- bul University, along with nine musicologists and journalists from Germany are participating in the first symposium on “Collabora- tive Research and Educational Partnerships in Musicology” at the Kabul University. When Gloria Ahmadi steps up to the rostrum, the audience goes silent. All the listeners intently focus on the front of the hall. Especially at the back of the room, on the right side it seems that the suspense is mounting. This is where the women with color- ful headscarves are seated. Gloria Ahmadi doesn’t seem to notice that. Calmly and thoughtfully, the Bachelor student at the Kabul University begins her lecture on the role of women in Afghanistan’s music culture.

She speaks Dari, the national language. The fact that she is one of only two women speakers, that this is the first time that she has ever spoken at a symposium makes a deep impression on us. Later she will simply say: “There used to be so many important women musi- cians in Afghanistan. I want to make a contribution so that women will once again play a role in our music.” That is what we want too. The symposium in November 2014, which was jointly organized by the Transcultural Music Studies (TMS) of the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar and the Department of Music of the Kabul Uni- versity, is one step in this direction.


Supported by the German Federal Foreign Office

In October 2014, the chancellor of the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar, Christine Gurk, the musicological staff member of the TMS, Mirwaiss Sidiqi and I travelled to the capital city of Afghanistan, in order to strengthen our long-term collaboration. Christine Gurk was the first university chancellor to visit the Kabul University after the fall of the Taliban regime and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the chancellor, Prof. Dr. Habibullah Habib (see also p. 16 of this issue). In the future, the Weimar music university will support the Kabul Department of Music in setting up their organization, curricula, etc. Thanks to the support of the German Federal Foreign Office, it will be possible to realize joint research programs with workshops, conferences and symposiums as well as the reconstruction of the archive for Afghan music at the Kabul University during the coming years. Both universities offered their first joint E-Learning seminar during the winter semester 2014/15. During this pilot project seven students from Weimar and ten from Kabul, among which five were women, studied together using a specially developed E-Learning platform. Materials and texts on Afghan music culture and musicological work techniques as well as questions on music management and music pedagogy were uploaded and discussed.

“What we are doing here is not cultural development aid – it is a two-way exchange!”, emphasizes the head of the TMS chair, Prof. Dr. Tiago de Oliveira Pinto from the Department of Musicology Weimar-Jena. The exchange intensifies the scholarly dialogue, fos- ters understanding for other cultural areas and, last but not least, broadens the horizon – on both sides. Since the beginning of the project, Safar stands on four equally important columns: engage- ment in the area of university education, concert events, the buildup of an archive and the support of music education in schools of ge- neral education. This way, this project – with which the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar supports the revival of Afghan music – not only addresses diverse target groups, but also utilizes synergies.


Return of the Master Musicians

Afghanistan is located on the Silk Road. The mountainous area of Hindu Kusch has always been focused on trade. Nowhere else in the world did the great cultures of this multiethnic state encounter each other in such a fascinating way. From the Turkish people in the north and the Persians in the west to the followers of the Hindu cultures in the east: They all brought their own music and instru- ments along. Consequently, the music of Afghanistan is appropria- tely multi-faceted and culturally unique. During the terror-regime of the Taliban, music was forbidden. Music archives were destroyed, instruments shattered, and if anyone played music in spite of this, it was not seldom that his hands would be cut off.

Many master musicians left Afghanistan. Most went into exile in Pakistan, others left for countries farther away. Today, only a few of the master musicians have returned and pass their knowledge on to a new generation of musicians at the ANIM, the Aga Khan Music Initiative and the Kabul University. Unfortunately, the many headlines about terror and destruction dominate the news. The fact that this music that is so culturally and historically significant is now being played and taught again by old Ustads, that young students are beginning to become interested in traditional music, that there are three instrument-makers back in Kabul – is hardly known out- side of the region. That needs to change!

In the summer of 2012, five Afghan master musicians and two of their ANIM students travelled to Germany. This concert tour made it possible for interested people in Germany to experience Safar, which means “Journey”. In Weimar the Afghan musicians rehearsed with three renowned German jazz and pop musicians – an exciting musical exchange across national and cultural borders. This unique ensemble then gave concerts in Weimar, Rudolstadt, Bonn and Berlin that were also broadcast on the radio. They re- corded their exceptional repertoire at the studio of the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar. Safar 2012 concluded with a sold out concert at the Berlin Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Thus, the path was cleared for future journeys.

The next year German musicians travelled to Kabul on the reci- procal trip. The instrumentalists from different cultures and musical traditions gave joint workshops and concerts with traditional Af- ghan repertoire. The final concert at the historic park of the Babur Gardens was broadcast via satellite live as an audio-video stream throughout the world. Many radio stations were connected and the concert was available as a video stream on the website www.safar- musik.de and the Internet sites of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). The Völkerkundemuseum (Ethnology Museum) in Hamburg showed the concert live at its auditorium.

In 2014 the German musicians travelled to Kabul once again. This time, they were accompanied by the Turkish Ney flutist Kudsi Ergü- ner with his historically important repertoire that was composed in the 15th and 16th centuries in what is today Afghanistan. “These concerts are important, because the Afghan musicians experience the great appreciation by the national and international public. But also for the Afghan audience: the rich tradition of Afghan music can once again be experienced,” as Prof. Tiago de Oliveira Pinto explains. “At the same time we were able to show the German public such a different impression of Afghanistan than is normally communicated by the news. Afghanistan is also the beauty of the culture here.” The musical encounters were documented on a DVD that was released in 2014.


Compiling a Music Archive

On the long term, staff members of the TMS department will sup- port the Afghan musicologists in compiling an archive that will be accessible to interested specialists both within and outside of Afghanistan. The last collection of Afghan music that survived the terror-regime of the Taliban is located in the center of Kabul. Its ca- retaker is Mohammed Sidiq. He has been the archivist of the state Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA) for over 40 years. During the 1990’s he hid the tapes from the Taliban, thus saving them from de- struction by the self-declared warriors of God. Thanks to this man’s commitment, some 30,000 catalogued recordings, some 1,000 notebooks full of information and minutes, and ca. 15,000 digita- lized works of music still exist.

But the archive at RTA is hardly accessible and there are no backup copies. Should this important collection be destroyed, the recor- dings would be lost forever. It would be a harsh blow for the nati- onal identity of the Afghans. This country has suffered an immense loss of national, material and immaterial cultural treasures since the war-like disputes of the past decades. By systematically archiving the collection and making it accessible, Afghans would have the opportunity to remember aspects of their identity that had been an important part of cultural memory for generations. The archives also form the basis for further scholarly examination in the internati- onal dialogue with the cultural heritage of the country.

In order to make backup copies to secure the archive, staff mem- bers of the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar are currently de- veloping an initial digital platform for tagging in the Persian alpha- bet. They are being assisted by Johannes Theurer, chairman of the World Music Group at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the chief curator of DISMARC, the largest metadata bank for music data. In addition, Prof. Dr. Walter Koch from Austria, the chairman of the Forschungsgesellschaft für angewandte Informati- onstechnik mbH (Research Society for Applied Information Tech- nology, Inc.) and chairman of the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), which created the digital infrastructure for the audio library EUROPEANA. The data bank solution uses the highest standard at present for the networking of digital audio libraries and makes the RTA archive accessible for modern processing methods.

Until now, the RTA had refused many offers of collaboration from various initiatives and institutions. The fear is great that the material could be uncontrollably distributed on the Internet. But the connec- tion between the two universities in Kabul and Weimar and the po- sitive experience of the Safar project up until now have persuaded the decision makers to revise their position. Along with the first work initiatives, the RTA journalists invited the German delegation to visit the television studio in November 2014. For an entire hour, Prof. Walter Koch, Johannes Theurer, Mirwaiss Sidiqi and I were able to present the joint project.

There was a great show of interest by the students and teachers of the Kabul University which is why Prof. Koch held a lecture on “Digital Libraries” and “Cloud Computing” at the symposium in November 2014. “Afghan music must once again be available, researchable and audible – even beyond concerts and exclusive circles,” Johannes Theurer emphasizes. “That will also bring for- ward further research on this rich culture within and outside of Af- ghanistan.” Since Afghanistan has no other music archive, other collections must be found in other countries to be made accessible as Cloud archives.

In that context the collection of the musicologist and ethnologist Prof. Dr. Felix Hoerburger (1916-1997) is of particular interest. The audio, photo and film documentation as well as diary entries that include what he collected during his travels to Afghanistan (1966- 1968) offer interesting insights into the music culture of the country. Mirwaiss Sidiqi, who undertook much field research in his former function as the director of the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Kabul, is presently preparing the collection so that it can be made accessible in the Cloud archives and at the Kabul University.

Music is not taught at Afghan schools. Although the active interac- tion with music helps students learn teamwork capability, flexibility and communication skills. And yet the conventional western music pedagogy approaches would have to be revamped in regard to the Afghan cultural area and the educational tradition there. The question “how do we teach music?” faces a great challenge in a country that has had no music education for a very long time – a challenge that the project staff of the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar have been addressing since the year 2013. Teaching Module about Afghanistan

First of all, for the music education at high schools in Germany a bilingual module was created for teaching about the Afghan music culture. Along with explanations about music performance practi- ce, interactive elements such as 3D models of Afghan instruments and videos showing current music and school life were produced with the assistance of media designer Markus Schlaffke. This ma- kes Afghan culture easier for German students to understand. “This way, students have the opportunity to immerse themselves in other music cultures, to expand their view of this country and to expe- rience instruments they have never seen before and new musical principles and timbres,” as Jörg Sapper, who works on the project area of music education, explains.

The statistics prove how timely this educational tool is: At the mo- ment about 40 high schools throughout Germany are testing the module and showing their students the other, the beautiful side of Afghanistan. For music classes in Afghanistan, this teaching tool ser- ves as a basis for the contents. In order to make the teaching materi- al available at all times, a digital learning program was developed. Now it is time to offer training to the teachers in Afghanistan to make them familiar with this material and, as a result, with teaching about their own culture.

Since 2004 it has been possible to study music at the Kabul Uni- versity once again. After initial difficulties, the Department of Music under the direction of Prof. Islamuddin Ferooz, has registered 70 students, of which 30 are women. Along with assistance for work- shops and symposiums, the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar supports the Kabul colleagues in the preparation and realization of a musicological curriculum. This includes regular exchange between teaching staff as well as joint publications. Because one teaching hindrance must be energetically addressed in the future: the lack of adequate teaching and studying materials for music education – both at the Department of Music and at schools of general education.


First Publication in 30 Years

The materials must be prepared whilst taking social and religious contexts into account. The prerequisites for that are stamina and teamwork. This kind of complex task can only be realized through cooperation. Another important milestone in our collaboration has already been reached. Before the end of 2015 the bilingual textbook of the Kabul symposium will be published – in English and Dari. It will be the first publication in over 30 years on Afghan music, in which young Afghan scholars have been involved. All Af- ghan and German contributors have submitted their texts. “It is the first time in my life that a text I have written will be published,” as Gloria Ahmadi from Kabul happily remarks.

Although women had traditionally enjoyed an important role in Afghan music, the women students such as Gloria Ahmadi have a doubly hard time today: as a woman and as a young musicolo- gist. Because after the many years of the Taliban regime, Afghan society is still skeptical in regard to music and the people who work with it. That is why it is all the more impressive for us to encounter students like her, who continue on their path with determination and courage. They deserve every possible support.

For over three years now, the University of Music Franz Liszt Wei- mar has been engaged in Afghanistan. The first concert visit of the Afghan masters has become a comprehensive project – thanks to the support of the German Federal Foreign Office. The simultane- ous work on all four columns and the continuity of this work have made it possible to gain a great amount of confidence on both the Afghan and the German sides for the joint project. Again in 2015 staff of the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar will be teaching in Kabul and will open an exhibition at the Kabul University that will show materials from the Hoerburger collection and the first E-Books. In fall of 2015 a group of young Afghan scholars and young musicians will travel to Weimar.

A symposium in Weimar and more joint concerts will make it possi- ble for the German audience to experience the beauty of the music once again live. Gloria Ahmadi will also travel to Germany, for the first time in her life, and meet the Weimar students personally who she has only encountered at the joint online seminar so far. Together, they will document their works and prepare suggestions for further measures. A journey together, very much in the sense of Safar. We are already looking forward to it!