ANIM Ensemble

The musical worlds of Afghanistan

The ANIM Ensemble reassembles the jigsaw pieces of Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage.

Melting Pot Afghanistan :Music in a multi-ethnic state

The musical worlds of Afghanistan are among the most interesting mixed cultures of the Silk Road, indeed of the entire continent of Asia. Framed by the traditions of the Hindustani music of northern India and Pakistan, by the classical and folk music of Iran and its Central Asian neighbours and interaction reaching as far as China, a unique diversity evolved here over the centuries.

All the different facets of this multi-racial state come together in the city of Kabul, in its artists’ quarter Kharabat, which enjoyed a »golden age« in the 1960s and 70s: local folk music pulsated in the streets, as well as Sufi chants, borrowings from Bollywood and the jazz and pop that the hippie pilgrims brought with them from the West. When the Mujaheddin took power, and the Taliban after them, there was a massive exodus of Afghan artists to countries all over the world. Anyone who stayed (and continued to pracise his art) lived in fear for his life.

The ANIM Ensemble at the Elbphilharmonie

on 25 November 2022 in concert and the day before alongside a spice tasting at the Speicherstadt Museum Hamburg

The rise and fall of the Taliban

After the Taliban were overthrown 2001, Afghan musicians managed to revive the music scene of this legendary location with the founding of the ANIM (Afghanistan National Institute of Music) in 2010. A new generation of musicians, with women and girls now among their number, formed the Ensemble Safar led by Mohammad Murad Sarkhosh. They reassembled the jigsaw pieces of Afghanistan’s art- and folk-music tradition, and brought about a revival of the teaching and practice of the country’s cultural heritage, educating young people in scales and rhythms, instrumental pieces and songs.

This changed abruptly when the American forces pulled out between April and August 2021: the Afghan central government collapsed and the Taliban regained control of the country, including the capital city of Kabul. This silenced the newly flourishing cultural scene once more, and the ANIM had to stop its work. Rescue came from the government of Portugal, which issued humanitarian visas to 272 ANIM members, teachers and students alike. Since then, the institute has been rebuilt in exile, with Sarkhosh’s Ensemble Safar continuing its work in Lisbon. It has since adopted the name »ANIM Ensemble«.

The ANIM (Afghanistan National Institute of Musik)

The ANIM Ensemble

The repertoire of the group of eight musicians reflects the wealth of Afghanistan’s multi-racial heritage across all national boundaries: local Sufi music alternates with classical pieces based, like in India, on the raga scale system. Indian influences are also evident in the use of sitar, harmonium and tabla. The string fiddle ghichak, on the other hand, is related to the Persian kamancheh. Afghanistan’s »national instrument«, the characterful lute known as the rubab, stands at the centre of the performances with its specific sound that reminds Western listeners of a banjo.


Text: Stefan Franzen, last updated: 7 Nov 2022

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