Growls from the War zone

District Unknown
Afghanistan's first metal band, District Unknown, plans to let it rip on its visit to India

A house in Central Kabul throbs with the growls of a few men rehearsing for their upcoming gig in Delhi. The guitarist strums a gorgeous pounding guitar riff as the the drummer begins to hammer on the drumkit. It is here that the vocalist, like a sudden addition, tears in, turning into a wolf and growling the lyrics of Two seconds after the blast. The lyrics are dark if not mean, "but at the same time they are socially conscious," says Pedram Foushanji, the lead drummer of the band, who mentions that the song was penned after Pedram's brother Qasem Foushanji, the bass guitarist of the band, saw a bomb go off at the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008.

"He was in a queue for his visa but survived the bombing. He was witness to all the pain and suffering. The song describes that moment right after the blast," says Pedram, who, with guitar player Mohammad Qais Shaghasi and vocalist Yusoof Ahmad Shah, comprise District Unknown, the first metal band from Afghanistan. District Unknown will headline the SAARC festival in Delhi next week.

The band may revel in the deliberate menace of their music as the dark and labyrinthine passages from their popular tracks, but its presence seems something of an anomaly in Afghanistan, a country where the diplomatic mood (extremists earlier, moderates now) governs what people can and can't do. In fact, Travis Beard, the band manager's house, where the band jams, is more used to bullets and missiles than dense tunes paired with even denser vocals. Music in Afghanistan was considered haraam or un-Islamic and under the Taliban. The assault on the arts continued through the years, especially in '90s, and particularly on music, as tapes and musical instruments were burnt and musicians beaten up. A pop concert in Herat was bombed in 2010, allegedly by the Taliban.

"For how long will we keep hiding and not express ourselves? Music is a way of expressing what we feel about everything and saying it," says Pedram, who is a regular at the Sound Central Music Festival in Kabul, a sort of secret music festival that is not announced through banners in colleges, but through texts, and discussed in hushed tones before it takes place in a basement. This counterculture in, arguably, the world's most riotous city, has the young Afghans sitting up and taking notice. "There is a lot of anger in the people and they consider music a way of letting it out. You should see them at our gigs, headbanging and grooving to what we create," says Yusoof.

The band also played with masks on for a quite a while. "We listen to your songs (Bollywood music) too, but metal is their calling," iterates Beard, a musician himself.

The band was formed in 2008 when two cousins, Lemar Saifullah and Qais Shaqasi, met the Foushanji brothers, Pedram and Qasem, through Australian filmmaker and musician Beard. "We were a bunch of students who wanted to play music. In fact, we composed weird stuff in the beginning. We learnt everything while making music," says Pedram, who adds that their initial audience comprised expats and aid workers .

Their repertoire for India includes songs such as Joy vs sorrow and The dying bride, the former being a verse by Kahlil Gibran. The boys do not wear their masks any more, distorting it like no Afghan has ever done it before. It is time. And they are ready to let go.

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