Kabul‘s dreams of rock’n’roll

y: Marian Brehmer

“Sometimes it seems as if it was all part of a big plan”, says Sulayman Qardesh. He smiles at his band colleague Siddique Ahmad. Number three, drummer Mujtaba Habibi, couldn’t come for our interview. It was a perfect match when these three boys of different origin happened to meet and found Afghanistan’s first indie rock band, the “Kabul Dreams”.

Sulayman, a slim young man with short hair, sits in front of his computer. He wears a black T-Shirt with the Persian word “peace” printed in its centre. At daytime, Sulayman works in the cramped headquarters of “Kabul Rock Radio”, one of numerous radio stations that have popped up in Afghanistan’s capital during the last years.  Many times has he related to journalists how his band was founded.  Since the day Sulayman, Siddique and Mujtaba first met three years ago, the interest in “Kabul Dreams” has been on the rise.

Sulayman, singer of the band, grew up in neighbouring Uzbekistan during the civil war years. Coming from Afghanistan’s Uzbek community he already spoke the country’s language. In Uzbekistan, Sulayman attended music school and learned to play the guitar. In a country influenced by Russian fashions rock bands were normal.

For Siddique, a Pashtun and bassist, life in exile gifted him with opportunities he wouldn’t have had in Afghanistan during the war-torn nineties. When Kabul was reduced to a battlefield by the warlords, Siddique’s family escaped to Pakistan. In Islamabad, Siddique joined the developing rock scene and gave first concerts with Pakistani friends.

Mujtaba, a Tajik for his part, first played the drums in Iran. Upon his return to Kabul after the Taliban’s fall he befriended Siddique. They started playing pop and recording advertising jingles.

All three had spent childhood far from home. “Kabul is the place that united us. It was here that our dreams met”, says Sulayman. “That’s why we called our band ‘Kabul Dreams’.”

Siddique recalls their first trip as a band. “Kabul Dreams” was just a few months old and had been invited to the “South Asian Band Festival” in Delhi. As a rock band from Afghanistan they were bound to make news. At Kabul airport, a soldier eyed the musicians’ passports. He was surprised to see an Uzbek, a Pashtun and a Tajik board a plane together. “He wanted to know how we found each other. Only then did I realize that we have entirely different backgrounds”, Siddique says and laughs. The muscular bassist has bushy eyebrows and gelled hair. In a nonchalant way he leans against the back of his revolving chair.

The gig in Delhi boosted the young band’s confidence. Back in Afghanistan though, the musicians learnt how to be pioneers. “On our first concert in Kabul the listeners expected classical music”, says Siddique. Or pop, for that matter, which has been blurring from Kabul’s taxis for the past ten years. But nobody knew rock.

The audience seemed to like their new tunes. “Kabul Dreams” soon played in universities, restaurants and at the French Cultural Centre. Security always remained a concern. A concert scheduled at the time of presidential elections had to be cancelled due to acute danger of attack. Sulayman thinks that his band is already on the extremists’ list of targets.

“As long as we can play our music here we won’t leave Afghanistan”, says Siddique. He thinks that worrying about politics is a constant pain of the mind. “Music has always been a remedy which puts everybody in a positive mood.” In his opinion, Afghanistan not only needs a reconstruction of infrastructure, but also a psychological reconstruction.

“Kabul Dreams” wants to be part of this reconstruction. Looking into the shining eyes of the concertgoers is proof enough – and if only as a break from the country’s manifold sorrows.

On the other hand, “Kabul Dreams” only reaches a tiny group privileged enough to enter one of the fenced-off concert venues. On a summer day last year the band decided to play in public. In a spontaneous move, Sulayman, Siddique and Mujtaba took their instruments and an amplifier. Within minutes they started a street music show in Kabul’s Share-e-Now quarter.

Just like two kids after a crazy adventure, Sulayman and Siddique scroll through the photos of that afternoon. They feature men dressed in simple shalwar kameez, listening to the songs. Kids marvel at the guitars and taxi drivers have lowered their window panes.

“Kabul Dreams” are now hoping to enter the international stage. They are supported by the German crowdfunding platform “Sellaband”. Based on an individual finance plan “Sellaband” helps musicians raise funds in order to record a studio album. In return, the boys want to offer a copy of their album or an Afghan dinner to supportive fans. If visa and money allow, “Kabul Dreams” will record its first professional album in Berlin this summer. A tour through Germany funded by sponsors is scheduled for the same time frame.

Living in Germany, though, is not an option for Sulayman and Siddique. Sulayman has heard a lot about Berlin and its club scene. But he considers his future to lie in Afghanistan: “When I lived outside of Afghanistan, I always felt I would return one day. And this has finally happened.”