Women’s rights couldn’t have been celebrated better when Zohra, Afghanistan’s all-female orchestra, brought the curtain down on the 2017 World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.
The concert was symbolic of how 30 young women, the first in their families to learn music, overcame fundamentalist death threats in their home country to perform.
Their international premier at the elite ski resort was led by Afghanistan’s first female conductors, Negina Khpalwak and Zarifa Adiba. Zohra was joined by members of the youth orchestra of the Collège de Genève as they demonstrated the power of cross-cultural dialogue through music.
Some played traditional Afghan instruments, like the rabab, similar to the Indian sitar.
The video below shows a variety of unique performances starting from 9:00, 13:22, 24:44 and 37:07. One of the pieces, New Dawn, specially written for the event symbolises hopes of a bright future of Afghanistan.
Zohra is an ensemble of musicians between the ages of 14 and 20 who are studying at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM). It was founded in 2014 with five original members from the institute.
In a country where music and the arts were all but banned for a extended period under the Taliban’s rule between 1996 and 2001, learning and practising instruments invited death threats and intimidation.
With undivided support from ANIM, the orchestra will playing Beethoven on the rabab and sitar, and classical Afghan works on the cello and clarinet, during their tour in Switzerland. This is not just a positive break from the decades of war, but is also significant in terms of overcoming gender barrier in a country that is known to be unsafe for women.