Rubab class
Rabab music classes launched by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Kabul, Afghanistan Image Credit: Supplied/AKTC

Dubai: Resurrection of centuries’ old music is one of the key projects Agha Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) is carrying out in Afghanistan.

It is indeed a huge task in a country where once the Taliban regime had banned over a thousand years of Afghani musical traditions and outlawed it in the whole country.

AKTC has launched the Master-Apprentice (Ustod-Shogird) Music Training Programme, offering lessons to hundreds of students by master musicians in Kabul and Herat, as part of its plans to revive culture, heritage, art and music in Afghanistan, said Ajma Majwandi, a famous architect and Chief Executive Officer of the AKTC in Afghanistan.

Tabla Class
Age is no restriction at Tabla classes organised by the AKTC in Kabul Image Credit: Supplied/AKTC

Majwandi delivered a lecture titled ‘Inspiration to Aspire’ – the work of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Afghanistan – at the annual Ramadan suhour event hosted at the Ismaili Centre in Dubai. The event which was held in collaboration with the Embassy of Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi, was attended by a large number of people from different nationalities including diplomats.

Harmonium class in Kabul
Youth in Afghanistan attend harmonium class launched by AKTC Image Credit: Supplied/AKTC

During the presentation, Maiwandi gave an overview of the work of AKTC in Afghanistan. AKTC which is part of the Aga Khan Development (AKDN) focuses on the physical, social, cultural and economic revitalisation of communities in the developing world.

Why revive traditional music

“The musical training programme exemplifies the AKTC’s focus on linking the revitalisation of intangible and tangible cultural heritage,” he said, adding that music instruction and regular concerts now take place in historic buildings that are part of sites conserved and rehabilitated by the Trust’s Historic Cities Programme in both Kabul and Herat.

At the music classes, students study a variety of local instruments—rubab, tanbur, dutar, tabla, dilruba, and others—as well as singing.

Rubab Class
Young students of Tabla and Rabab during a session in Kabul, Afghanistan Image Credit: Supplied/AKTC

Many graduates have gone on to become prominent performers in Afghanistan’s music scene. While initial enrollment in the training programme was all male, efforts have been made to identify female students.

Young women are now enrolled in different courses, with the expectation that female graduates of the programme will, in time, contribute to the continuation of a rich Afghan tradition of music making by and for women.

Rubab and flute class
Young women at the Rabab and flute classes in Kabul Image Credit: Supplied/AKTC

Restoration of Chihilsitoon Garden in Kabul, Majwandi said, is the flagship project of AKTC as part of an ongoing commitment to Afghanistan’s diverse culture and civil society.

Restoring historic Chihilsitoon Garden

The 12.5 hectare Chihilsitoon Garden laid in ruins for the past 26 years before a project by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture restored the site to former glory, incorporating 10,200 m2 of modernised or newly constructed rammed earth buildings to provide high-quality facilities for visitors.

Formerly a 19th century royal garden transformed in the early 20th century into a state property housing visiting dignitaries, including most notably U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the site had been heavily damaged and looted during the internecine conflict of the early 1990’s.

Chihilsitoon Garden in Kabul
Chihilsitoon Garden in Kabul Image Credit: Supplied/AKTC

The project began in early 2015 and was completed by mid-2018 with a €15.1 million budget provided by the German Federal Foreign Office through the KfW Development.

“Rehabilitation of the Chihilsitoon garden is the largest project carried out to date by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which has completed more than 140 restoration and landscaping projects across Afghanistan since commencing its work in 2002,” said Majwandi.

Providing safe and secure environmeent in Kabul

The rehabilitated Chihilsitoon Garden provides users with a safe and secure environment to experience, interact, exchange within landscapes and facilities designed to contain and promote the country’s rich cultural expressions and social history.

Majwandi also showcased a number of other projects such as the Stor Palace in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which along with approximately 140 other heritage sites around the country has been restored by the AKTC with the strong support of the Afghan government and international partners.

Maiwandi highlighted the importance of involving the surrounding communities of restoration projects so that there is a sense of ownership and belonging.

Afghan Ambassador

Speaking on the occasion, Abdul Farid Zikria, Ambassador of Afghanistan to the UAE, shared his personal experiences of the work of the AKTC in his home country and expressed his gratitude. “We are grateful of the affinity and partnership that we have with AKDN and hope that we can further strengthen the bond between us.”

AKTC event in Abu Dhabi
Amiruddin Thanawalla, President of the Ismaili Community in the UAE (left); Abdul Fareed Zakiria, Ambassador of Afghanistan to the UAE and Ajmal Maiwandi, CEO of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in Afghanistan, at the annual Suhoor hosted by the Ismaili Centre, Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

“Culture strengthen the bond among people and now Chihilsitoon Garden provides an important meeting point for five million people residing in the fast expanding Kabul city of about 5million people,” he said.

Amiruddin Thanawalla, President of the Ismaili Community in the UAE, commented on how AKDN institutions involvement in Afghanistan is guided by a fundamental belief in and respect for human dignity, diversity, pluralism and the importance of demonstrating compassion for one’s fellow man.

“The AKDN institutions aim to create an enabling environment in order that individuals, and thereby communities, might become self-sufficient.”