In the Blog

those are burkas, but these ain’t the blues

March 27th, 2008     by Anna Leventhal     Comments

If it’s true that punk is an explosive reaction against an oppressive regime, then it’s no surprise that the punkest thing I’ve seen in ages is coming out of Afghanistan.

The Burka Band is a group of three women who, with the help of some German music producers, created this video, and a three-song EP, and a bit of an international reputation - one which, sadly, they can’t really enjoy, as they have to remain anonymous in their home town of Kabul. According to sources, only about ten people in all of Afghanistan know who these women actually are.

The video was released in 2003, and there was initially some doubt as to its authenticity - were these hipsters in bedsheets? Russian pop-stars riding the cutting edge? But it seems to be confirmed as the real deal: an Afghani girl group singing about how they feel about wearing burkas and being women in a highly segregated society. And why not? If the West has anything useful to offer the rest of the world, it’s that social critique often goes well with power chords and four-four beats. I don’t assume that the Burka Band speaks for all Afghani women, just like I don’t assume Yoko Ono speaks for all Japanese women, or Madonna for all American gals. But this is one of those strange and kind of amazing examples of how musical forms can bounce around the globe, mix together, influence and mutate, and just maybe make the world a little bigger. I can only hope.

The main songwriter, Nargiz, says of the project: It was a lot of fun, but also very scary. Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place for modern women, and when we shot the video we had to do it very discretely because no one could know that we were playing music. Of course it was a joke to sing in the burkas, but it was also necessary to wear them. If people in Afghanistan knew who the members of the Burka Band were, we could be attacked or killed because there are still a lot of religious fanatics here.

The single was released on the German label Ata Tak, and you can read more about it (and buy it) here. More Burka Band articles here and here.

Tags: picks from planet venus, playlist

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