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Afghanistan's first metal band, District Unknown, will perform at the SAARC Festival in Delhi.
A house in Central Kabul throbs with the growls of a few boys, rehearsing for their upcoming gig in Delhi. The guitarist strums a gorgeous riff, as the drummer begins to hammer on the drumkit. Suddenly the vocalist tears in, turning into a wolf and growling Two seconds after the blast. An amplified distortion is merged with emphatic beats as the vigorous vocals kick in. The air becomes heavy with psychedelic metal resonating in the obscurity and darkness of a silent war zone.
The lyrics are dark if not mean, "but at the same time, they are socially conscious", as Pedram Foushanji, the lead drummer of the band, puts it. He mentions that the song was penned after Qasem Foushanji — Pedram's brother and the band's bass guitarist — saw a bomb go off at the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008. "He was in a queue for a visa but survived the bombing. But the pain and suffering he saw after the blast was horrid," says Pedram, who, along with guitar player Mohammad Qais Shaghasi, Qasem and vocalist Yusoof Ahmad Shah, forms District Unknown, the first metal band from Afghanistan that will headline the SAARC Festival in Delhi next week.
The band may revel in the deliberate dark, but its presence seems something of an anomaly in Afghanistan, where the diplomatic mood (extremists earlier, moderates now) governs what people can and can't do. In fact, the house of band manager Travis Beard, which is also the band's jam pad, is more used to bullets and missiles than dense tunes paired with even denser vocals.
Music in Afghanistan was considered un-Islamic under the Taliban for many years. The assault on the arts continued in the '90s, and was particularly focused on music, as tapes and musical instruments were burnt and musicians beaten up. "But for how long will we keep hiding and not express ourselves?," says Pedram, a regular at the Sound Central Music Festival in Kabul, a sort of secret music festival. "There is a lot of anger among people and they consider music as a way of letting it out," says Yusoof.