The Musicology Department at the Eastman School of Music hosted a lecture called “Music of Afghan women under the Taliban,” given by visiting British musicologist Veronica Doubleday on March 23. This interesting presentation took place in the Sibley Music library at 12:30 p.m. and was unfortunately not well-publisized or well-attended. Ethnomusicologist Ellen Koskoff introduced Doubleday, a Sussex University professor, and a writing tutor at the University of Brighton, who lived for two years in Afghanistan before the rise of the Taliban. “Her book, ‘Three Women of Harat,’ is a milestone in ethnomusicology,” Koskoff said. Doubleday began by giving background of Islamic music-related ideology based on men’s interpretations of Islamic texts. She explained that music is defined only as sounds made by musical instruments. The recitation of the Qur’an, which sounds to westerners as vocal recitation, is not considered music. In Afghanistan, Doubleday, said, the music profession is despised and has a low and ambivalent status, because the early Islamic musicians were female sex slaves, tavern workers and prostitutes. In their own way, traditional Muslim cultures “acknowledge the captivating power of music – they consider it dishonourable, because it distracts good Muslims from the righteous things they should be doing, like praying and daily activities,” Doubleday said. Doubleday focused her presentation on Afghan female domestic music. It is folk music particularly connected to celebration and different marriage processes. It is different from the music made by female professional musicians who existed before the Taliban rule and who were hired to entertain at engagement and wedding parties. Doubleday lived in Afghanistan before the Soviet intrusion and the subsequent Taliban rule. “Women and men were segregated, most women wore the burqa, but there was an atmosphere of tolerance which was during the Taliban period,” she said. The Islamic interpretation of music in Afghanistan states that no music is to be played in a time of mourning. The Afghan leaders used this belief to impose a ban on all areas of music making as a reaction to communist ideology, by insisting that the nation is in a state of war and thus perpetual mourning. The Afghan gender ideology does not separate male and female music by modes or even by songs. However, men use a variety of instruments, such as the lute and wind instruments, whereas women use only a drum. Both men and women are constrained as to when and where to play music. Women also need a valid reason to do so, like entertaining guests or celebrating. Contrary to men, who perform music solo, women play in a group. Their music making includes a lot of clapping and drumming. Musically active females exceed the number of males, but their activity is hidden and subdued. Music is an oral tradition in Afghanistan rather than a written or recorded one. Doubleday explained and demonstrated the four different categories of music making in Afghanistan. She sang a lullaby herself as an example of the small voice-only category. “The singing is very loud. This is not what we would assume as a lullaby,” she said. “The rhythm of the lullabies is present through the vigorous rocking of the cradle or the child, so the woman doesn’t need to use a drum. If the mother doesn’t want to sing, she tapped the baby itself! Those songs are daytime songs, since at night the mother would go to sleep with the child.” Next, Doubleday focused on the “most important category” – the voice and the drum. She sat on the table in order to demonstrate the proper sitting and holding of the instrument. She called it “daire,” a name used today in many Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries to describe many similar kinds of drums. The lecturer explained that that the Prophet Muhammad had been heard saying “beat the drum and celebrate the wedding,” which makes the daire a protected, lawful instrument. She demonstrated the rhythms used by Afghan women, which are based on the patterns of four, six and seven. Women don’t have to be heterosexual in the addressing of their songs. There are certain kinds of songs which only women sing. There are also many songs composed by women, who, naturally, remain anonymous. The third and fourth category consist of two different ways of playing the daire. Doubleday played a recording of music which advertises a marriage, and specified one exception in North-eastern Afghanistan when men play the drum as an example of a mystical connection. Asked by the audience, she touched briefly upon women’s professional music making which existed before the Taliban and explained that females used daire, harmonica and table. “They did not have the proper technique and education, of course, but they sure played effectively!” she recalled. Doubleday explained that the Prophet had supposingly said that music is like “braying of a donkey” and commented, amused, “I simply think he was referring to some really bad music!” She ended her lecture with saying that now that the Taliban are mostly gone, she is returning to Afghanistan in a couple of weeks to continue her field research. Doubleday’s lecture was well-structured, well-timed and captivating. She explained quite well the political background of the Afghan culture and how it relates to women’s music making. Her subsequent concise and understandable overview of female’s verbally transmitted folk music was clear, understandable and interesting to everyone, not merely musicians. Regretably, her visit to Eastman was incredibly poorly advertised and attended. The musicology department should try to publicize lectures like Doubleday’s earlier and better in order to make them available and attractive to a larger amount of students and guests. Fol can be reached at afol@campustimes.org.



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