Afghan singer Aryana Sayeed listens to contestants from The Voice of Afghanistan television show at Qargha lake on the outskirts of Kabul. The glamorous 28-year-old singer is a judge on worldwide hit series The Voice that launched in Kabul in May, immediately attracting huge audiences and an array of angry critics. Aryana receives regular death threats and lives in fear of being kidnapped by religious extremists.
The everyday noise of war was hushed at a concert held this week in the rugged hills of central Afghanistan.
The musical extravaganza took place in front of the ruins of the Bamiyan Buddhas, which were destroyed by the Taliban government some 12 years ago - when music was banned and women were not allowed to publicly participate in anything.
Armed with powerful lyrics, a line-up of 15 Afghan artists and singers - both male and female, and including one 12-year-old girl - performed in front of some 10,000 people on Thursday, an Afghan weekend.
Some sang with their rubab and dombura, traditional stringed instruments, while others played blues and rock - all in the name of peace and unity in a country that has been torn by conflict for three decades.
Two artists rapped in the local Dari language about the plight of Afghan youths and the challenges the country faces.
And a group of young boys from Kabul performed breakdance moves to Western hip-hop and pop beats.
The performers praised Bamiyan as a symbol of peace and security. The area is one of the few in Afghanistan that is safe and free from Taliban violence.
The open concert, organised for International Youth Day and funded by the UN political mission in Afghanistan, was aimed at the country’s young people.
The goal was “to really highlight the role of youth in helping this country come back from a rather difficult past and to look towards the future for much more promise and hopefully a stable and peaceful future,” Ari Gaitanis, a official at the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said.
Afghan Taekwondo star Rohullah Nikpa, who won Olympic bronze twice, was one of the celebrities participating in the event. He was mostly flanked by his fans, signing autographs and taking photographs with them.
In a short speech before the concert, Nikpa asked the young Afghans to support development and national unity.
“Wow! This is the first time in my life I have seen an event of this magnitude,” said audience member Jamil Jala. “I loved it and I really hope these kinds of concerts continue.”
Due to security problems, concerts in the capital Kabul tend to be exclusive and in small venues, he said.
One of the event managers, Rawil Singh, said organisers had received threats from clerics in the area.
“The mullahs tried to stop the event from happening, saying that this kind of concert is not allowed in Islam,” he said.
“We told them they could speak their minds, but they could not stop us from organising the event. People will decide whether they want to come or not.”
Afghan singer Aryana Sayeed said she was worried because the local mullahs opposed the concert.
“But honestly, today, the way the concert went, I am very happy and grateful. People had fun and I felt amazing to perform in front of a cheering crowd. They showed love and support. It is the best thing for an artist,” she said after her performance.
Sayeed has recently become popular with young Afghans, and during the concert the crowd roared her name several times before she went on stage to sing.
During her performance, one young man leaped through the security cordon with a bouquet of roses in his hands, only to be stopped by one of the organisers a foot away from the stage. He was escorted out by the police.
Despite her popularity, Sayeed has become a target for conservative clerics who accuse her of promoting indecency through her singing. A recent single, which speaks out against the suffering of Afghan women, garnered much controversy.
Sayeed also came under flak for not covering her hair when she appeared on popular Afghan television show The Voice.
In her performance on Thursday, she sang a new song, without any background music, as a retort to those religious leaders. The song is about a champion who does not give up, no matter what obstacles are faced.
Farzana Ahmadi, a student at Bamiyan University, said Sayeed was an inspiration for her.
“I adore her. I came only to see her performance. Her songs are so powerful and suitable for Afghan women’s situation,” she said.
“Overall, the whole concert was a well-executed show with great artists. I go home content.”
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