This morning, NPR had a touching, revealing story about the musical ghetto of Kabul, Kharabat Street, it’s history and denizens:
- For hundreds of years, an ancient part of Kabul called Kharabat Street was synonymous with Afghan music. But these days Kharabat Street is in ruins, the music silenced by decades of war.
“Most of the musicians were either born here (or) trained here,” says Shirazuddin Siddiqi, producer of Afghanistan’s radio soap opera, New Home, New Life. He recently returned to visit the “musical ghetto” of Kharabat Street with Morning Edition Special Correspondent Renée Montagne, who along with Associate Producer Tom Bullock has been reporting a series of stories called “Re-Creating Afghanistan.”
When Shirazuddin Siddiqi traveled to Kabul as a child, he would be sure to make his way to Kharabat Street. “I always wanted to make an excuse to go through this lane and hear all sorts of music being played,” he recalls. “Large musical families… had their own houses in one part of the lane. And so as you moved on, one style of music was played at the beginning of this lane, and then it would change into another style and it would change into another style….”
As Montagne describes it, Kharabat Street “is really a long, winding dirt lane in the ancient part of Kabul, where mud houses stretch up a brown mountain they match so perfectly. The houses disappear when the shadows do. For hundreds of years, Kharabat Street was a bright spot — not for the eyes, but the ears.”
Malang Mohammad, a musician like his father and grandfather before him, remembers Kharabat as “a very beautiful place,” full of musicians who would entertain at parties throughout the night. A decade ago, he and his family of 13 were forced to fleet the area after rockets fired by feuding Mujahadeen destroyed his house. Now he is rebuilding his family home.
Malang Mohammad is among the musicians who hope to reconstruct Kharabat in the ancient style — and bring the music back to life. Some have rented storefronts a few blocks from Kharabat Street to teach and rehearse and wait to be hired to perform at wedding parties.
But the municipal government has plans to tear down what’s left of the old section and put up high-rise apartments instead. “Musicians were living there and they made other people happy, but they themselves were living in a very bad condition in the old city,” says municipal official Abdullah Raoof.
But some officials have other visions for Kharabat. Mohammed Yusuf Pashtun, Afghanistan’s new minister of housing and urban affairs, says he would prefer to keep the look and character of the old town, while modernizing utilities and other parts of its infrastructure. “We would like to keep the tradition,” he says.
The street was destroyed not by the music-hating Taliban, but by the warlords who preceded them: a source of caution for Afghanistan’s future, I would hope.
There are selections of Afghani music and photos of Kharabat on the site as well.