Interview with Afghanistan’s first rock band, Kabul Dreams

On Jan. 17, 2014, Kabul Dreams, Afghanistan’s first rock band, came to record a session at Zoo Labs forProject AJ+, a new digital channel from Al Jazeera. Our very own Dan Lawrence, program coordinator and producer, sat down with lead singer and guitarist, Sulyman Qardash to hear about their experience building a band, starting a musical movement and what’s up next. 

Dan Lawrence:  Thank you for sitting down with me, who are you?

Sulyman Qardash:  I’m Sulyman, I’m from the band “Kabul Dreams” and we are Afghanistan’s first band.

DL:  So, is it a tricky thing to be a rock band from Afghanistan because of the laws regarding the freedom of expression?  Tell me what it’s like to start a band there, come over here, and in a few weeks from now, play SXSW.

SQ:  Well, we’ve been playing since 2008 as a band.  As the pioneers of rock music back in Kabul,  it was really difficult in the beginning.  We had a lot of issues, technical and also social issues.  Slowly, with the constant production of content from creating and recording music, we began to grow.  Obviously, we don’t have any professional studios in Kabul.  We did everything at home in home studios.  We recorded everything ourselves and slowly began putting our tracks online, which gained people’s interest, eventually leading to gigs.  We got our start playing outside of Afghanistan, but now this year, we gotinvited to SXSW.  For a band like us coming from a foreign country, it’s really a great opportunity to go and play because you meet other people in the industry like producers and sound engineers and other important people.  We are really excited to come from Kabul and play in Austin, TX.

DL:  Have you hit any major problems in Afghanistan while trying to reach out and build a solid network of people who are interested in what you’re doing?

SQ:  You mean threats, that kind of thing?

 DL:  Yes, I would definitely consider that a problem.

SQ:  Yes, it was constantly happening in the beginning, but fortunately we’ve made this our lives. You need to except a certain amount of threat or risk to do something.  If you really have the passion and an interest in art or anything, if you really enjoy what you’re doing and you believe in yourself I think you can continue doing what you love.  Obviously it’s different here and there, but with constant practice and many tries, we’ve made it.

DL:  So is there a movement happening in Afghanistan?

SQ:  Yea, there is a movement beginning.  When we first started playing there wasn’t any scene to go into and also nowhere to play.  We used to play at private universities for students and a couple cultural centers that were around.  In the beginning, it was really complicated because I would ask to play, they would be like, “What kind of music? Rock? What is that?”  Another issue is you have to deal with the security of people at gigs, and you have to take all responsibility, so organizing only one show can take like two months.

DL:  Because you need agreements for everything?

SQ:  Yes, EVERYTHING!  And you have to make sure nothing is going to happen in the audience at shows because the band would get the blame for that, because any kind of crowd will be there.  We did a couple street concerts. We were the first band to do this in Afghanistan.  Out of nowhere we would play. It’s on YouTube if you want to see. We would put on an event in the street, security would come, make comments and make things complicated.  We would try to explain that we are not doing anything bad or harmful.  It would take time to convince them that nothing is wrong with what we are doing.  We would tell them music is just our thing, it’s what we like to do, I think we have a right to do what we want.  And now a couple new bands have come out who are inspired by us, and also by other bands that are forming.

DL:  Do you guys all know each other and talk?

SQ:  Yes.  It’s kind of a community that we made and are continuously forming.  Artists come and talk and exchange information about music.  They like to exchange ideas.  Things are happening, but still it needs time to improve.  I remember in the beginning we used to take our music to radio stations and they wouldn’t listen to us.  They used to make comments like: “It’s too noisy and loud. We can’t play this.”  I think they were too worried about their reputation.  Recently, we’ve made some new songs and they started playing them!  Same with our music videos. Now they are cool with us and everything we make. They want to put us online and we’re being broadcasted.  Things are happening, but it takes time.  You need to take all the right steps, and then you get to that point.  But without that it’s a bit difficult.  You can’t skip steps.  Now that this movement is happening, people are starting to act differently, in the US, in the UK….of course rock isn’t for everyone, but it’s starting to catch on in Afghanistan because people know who we are.

DL:  Name some bands that have influenced you guys..

SQ:  I grew up with punk rock, with the US bands I can say that Nirvana is one of my favorite bands, and then there is Radiohead, Stereophonics, Biffy Clyro, and a lot more…

DL: Thanks for chatting with us! Good luck with everything and hope to see you here again.

Watch Kabul Dreams at The Afghan Youth Voices Festival in Kabul in 2013 on YouTube.

Kabul Dreams is Afghanistan’s first rock band formed in Kabul in 2008. The band is composed of lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Sulyman Qardash, bassist Siddique Ahmed and drummer Mujtaba Habibi. When they began playing around Kabul, they were the only active rock band in the country and with their continued hard work and effort, succeeded to gain national and international recognition within the span of just a few years. The band has been working on their first full length album, which has finally been recorded in late 2012 in Kabul. Alan Sanderson, an internationally acclaimed record producer, sound engineer and Grammy winning artist, showed interest in Kabul Dreams when he was contacted by the band. He saw tremendous potential in the band and agreed to mixed and master their album in his studio in San Diego. A German Management Company Sellaband met the band in Munich and agreed to distribute the album in Europe, US and Canada. Finally they released their first album on April 22nd, 2013. The album called Plastic Words. (Source: Wikipedia)

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