Asia

Afghan notebook: On song, off message

  • 7 February 2014
  • From the section Asia

When a famous Afghan singer turned up on a popular chat show, he had a blunt message in music to deliver to the president.

Everyone wants their say on 2014, a make-or-break year for Afghanistan with elections looming and foreign troops pulling out.

That includes Hasan Besmil, one of the country's best-known traditional singers.

Besmil certainly stood out on Tolo TV's Qabe Goftogo show, which regularly features sports stars and celebrities; its comedian presenters are dressed in contemporary style from toe to fashionably gelled hair.

The singer was quite a presence with his intense eyes, long hair and a proudly distinct dress sense, including the green chapan - a garment made famous by President Karzai.

But Besmil didn't just change the look of the show - he changed its tone too.

A veteran of TV shows and functions for more than 30 years, he was invited to present his latest composition, though as a performer of traditional local music, it is more of an improvisation of words and melody to a backdrop of tablas, dutars and other traditional instruments.

Image caption Hasan Besmil's music is very popular and widely distributed across Afghanistan

The art of his type of music is to find words that connect easily with his audiences.

And with his latest song he waded straight into the most hotly debated issue in Afghanistan right now - the year 2014, a number which has become synonymous with vaguely defined upheaval and unease.

The song started innocently enough.

"My name is Haji Hasan, I have a scarf and chapan," it began, but soon strayed into politics.

"It is 2014 and Besmil will continue singing," he went on, before getting straight on to the controversy surrounding the proposed US-Afghan security agreement which President Karzai has so far refused to sign.

Besmil's advice was straightforward.

"Sign the agreement with America, brother. People are worrying, asking when you will sign the agreement... everyone, young and old, is advising this will be signed very soon, inshallah."

Like similar performers, Besmil takes his inspiration from the daily worries of people.

And those, he reckons, currently revolve around Afghanistan's year of transition.

"Elders are worried, women are upset and children are unaware, youngsters are confused," Besmil rhymes. "Some people have already got foreign visas and are thinking of leaving the country."

Image caption Afghans like these young boys at Kabul market face an uncertain future

But the singer's message is actually one of reassurance. Running away is not a good option, he sings, telling people things will work out.

But agreement of any sort on the US-Afghan security pact is still some way off.

And it is still causing controversy; Tolo TV was one of several stations forced by the Afghan government to drop adverts urging people to sign the security accord.

Besmil's songs, meanwhile, are making the rounds on social networking sites and local markets.

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