Monthly Archives: September 2011

Rock and Roll in Kabul

Dubbed, the world’s first stealth concert, Sound Central, is ready to rock the capital of Afghanistan.  Founded by Australian, Travis Beard, a photojournalist and guitarist in the Kabul-based rock band, White City, Sound Central is a rock music festival bringing artists from around Central Asia to Kabul for a groundbreaking modern music festival.

Beard has made Kabul his home for the past five years and has left his mark on Kabul in unique ways.  A founding member of Kabul Knights Motorcycle Club, Skateistan,and Wallords, and co-founder of Combat Communications, an umbrella organization of artists and musicians, Travis has delved into a country known for little else besides terrorism and poverty through motorcycle touring, photography, rock music, and streetart.  Now he is bringing the power of modern music and self-expression to the masses in the form of Sound Central, the first ever Central Asian modern music festival along with New York City based producer, Daniel Gerstle.

The festival features all four Afghan-based rock bands, including the emerging young band Kabul Dreams, as well as musicians from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Iran, Pakistan, Australia, Sweden, UK, and the US. The Kabul series of events begins with the Sound Studies, an invitation only musician’s workshop during which Festival Rock Ambassador Brian Viglione of the Dresdon Dolls, Faisal Mustafa, and Izzy Brown among others.  The workshops will cover topics such as; music production, performing at risk, guitar and bass, new media production, as Afghan and Central Asian musicians build solidarity and prepare to take on the world.  The main concert is till firmly under wraps, but when unveiled, twelve bands will take to the stage to rock Kabul.

This is the first rock concert held in Afghanistan since Ahmad Zahir‘s show in 1975 before the Soviet occupation set off the now nearly forty years of conflict.  It’s an important reminder that Afghanistan once enjoyed modern music, tourism, and other freedoms lost over the past decades of conflict and oppression.   The Taliban banned recorded music when they controlled Afghanistan up until 2001, and even today modern musicians and youth activists are targets for violence.  Female performers in particular are at great risk, and not just in Afghanistan.  Radicals from Iran to Uzbekistan, continue to threaten or harass musicians and modernists, and female rockers, such as Iran’s Maral, are often forced to perform in secret or underground.

A recent upswing in attacks around Kabul over the past month have added additional challenges for the festival organizers.   Increased security restrictions affected the opening night jam session and workshop which was rescheduled after the attacks on the US Embassy affected their original venue location.  Flexibility is key for this festival as both dates and venues for the main event and several side shows are left unannounced till 24 hours before to ensure security.  But the musicians flying in from all over Central Asia and the US are still undeterred, seeming to echo Beard’s sentiment,”The show must go on.”

“Bottom line is we want to show Afghan & Central Asian youth what a peaceful Afghanistan could look like. We want to get beyond the politics and the war and celebrate life, freedom of expression, and rock and roll.”

If you want to support freedom through music in Afghanistan – please consider donating through our Crowdrise page set up to benefit Sound Central!

Rock on.

(published on Huffington Post – September 27, 2011)

Pedal Power Nation








This October, the Panjshir Tour rolls into several cities – grassroots, community bike rides that supportMountain2Mountain’s work with women and children in conflict zones. This is the second year of the Tour, based off my experiences mountain biking in Panjshir province of Afghanistan. Yup, Afghanistan.

Countries like Afghanistan don’t culturally allow women on bikes right now, and while our project focus is targeted towards women and girls, its not about getting them on bikes, Rather, its about using the bike as a vehicle for social justice and change for women’s rights. It’s a subtle difference, but a powerful one. Mountain2Mountain’swork is advocacy, education, training, and cultural outreach. We aren’t trying to rashly push on cultural boundaries unnecessarily over there, but we can use the bike back here as a tool to affect change in increments that are sustainable.

Thus the Panjshir Tour was born when I rode across the Panjshir Valley last October, and riders in eight communities rode with me in solidarity for women’s rights, using their sweat equity to help raise awareness and funds for our projects. Rides like the one in Saratoga Springs, New York which was spearheaded by 11-year-old Reese Arthur around her neighborhood with her fellow students, or the one in Washington DC that started at ended at previously designated women’s prisons during the suffrage movement. The deaf university, Gallaudet University in Washington DC hosted a campus ride knowing it would benefit our work with the Afghan National Association for the deaf as we work to build a school, and cruiser bikes hit the beach path in LA in an impromptu ride.

Countries like Afghanistan don’t culturally allow women on bikes right now, yet my experience riding across the Panjshir Valley, as a foreign woman, on a bike was met with friendly curiosity and often incredulity, but never animosity. The interactions created by their curiosity led to endless conversations and questions about my purpose there and my work in the area, and often concluded with requests to visit their village, or offers to join their family for dinner. The gracious tradition of Muslim hospitality to travelers firmly in place even in a country enduring nearly forty years of conflict.

It was my goal to challenge perceptions and invite conversation on both sides of the equation. Challenging the stereotypes of women and Americans in Afghanistan, while challenging parallel stereotypes of Afghans as a people and as a nation in the United States. Bridging cultures and communities on two wheels.

Women that I know that lived and worked in Afghanistan in the 60’s as part of the Peace Corps rode their bikes daily to and from work – a far cry from the security lockdowns and convoys required today. Women like Dervla Murphy pedaled solo across the entire region prior to the Soviet’s invasion. We all know the power of the pedal. Connecting communities, reducing our carbon footprint, improving our health, exploring new cultures, and in third world countries the list grows to social issues like increasing access to education and healthcare, and decreasing violence against women. Pedal power indeed.

It is this pedal power that sparked the Panjshir Tour in cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, Saratoga Springs, Santa Rosa, Portland, and Washington DC.

Actor and bike advocate Matthew Modine expressed his support of the Panjshir Tour as honorary co-chair of this year’s event stating, “The women and girls of Afghanistan deserve our attention and support. This is not a women’s issue or an Afghanistan issue. Its a human rights issue. I want to encourage everyone with a bike to use it as a vehicle for social change by coming out and riding with us and showing your support for gender equity and opportunity for women and girls all over the world”

By coming together with our bikes, we can fight for justice, we can battle for change, and we can do it one pedal stroke at a time.

Come join us this October, or start your own grassroots ride in your community. Get pedaling and get involved!

(originally published in Huffington Post – September 9, 2011)

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