Afghanistan’s Zohra Orchestra Attracted thousands of Visitors in Australia
The 12th and 14th of October marked two historical milestones in the history of both Australia and Afghanistan and their bilateral relations. Afghanistan’s first and only all-female orchestra, students of Afghanistan’s only music school (ANIM), performed to a sold-out audience at two iconic Australian locations. Both concerts at Monash University and the Sydney Opera House were attended by over 1500 guests, who all gathered to celebrate the beauty and resilience of Afghan music, Afghan women and Afghan youth. The group of young musicians were accompanied by teaching staff at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), and the school’s founder and director, Dr Ahmad Sarmast.
Created by Dr Sarmast in 2015, the Orchestra has since performed on numerous international tours since 2017, including a performance at the World Economic Forum. They have since gained recognition from admirers and critics alike, as well as being the recipient of several prestigious awards. These include the Freemuse Award and Success for Women of Afghanistan from the Institute for Peace, Media, and Good Governance in 2017. Later in 2018, they were conferred with the Montluc Resistance Liberte Award.
Their distinctive sound is based on a harmonious blend of classical Afghan and Western instruments in a manner that simultaneously generates cultural harmonies and showcases the nuances of traditional Afghan music – allowing them to explore their identities as young women and as Afghans. The messages conveyed by Zohra Orchestra in their performances points towards the transformative power of music and its role in empowering women.
Zohra Orchestra’s debut Australia tour was a joint initiative led by the Embassy of the I. R. of Afghanistan and the Government of Australia to showcase the cultural and musical heritage of Afghanistan and celebrate 50 years of Afghan-Australian bilateral relations and 100 years of Afghanistan’s Reclamation of Independence. The strength of this bilateral relationship was reflected in the joint performance by the Zohra Orchestra and Australian students from Melbourne and Sydney, who came together to play Afghan classics, contemporary music and an Australian favourite.
The tour was covered by numerous news outlets, including ABC, SBS and TOLO news and received great positive feedback – praising the initiative of ANIM and the opportunities it has created for Afghanistan’s women and girls, who comprise a third of its students. The coverage of the two successful concerts also praised Zohra Orchestra’s role in reviving the ancient art of music since it was banned and repressed under Taliban rule.
Zohra Orchestra’s performance at the Sydney Opera House was the first performance at that venue by an Afghan musician or group – and it sent a powerful message of peace and harmony, and hope for the future. The Embassy of Afghanistan wishes to carry forward this message into the future, and extends its thanks to the generous support of the groups which allowed this historical music tour to be possible.