Supporting Afghan Music in the post-Taliban era

Submitting Institution

Goldsmiths' College

Unit of Assessment

Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

Download original


Summary of the impact

Since 2008, Baily has reached out to Afghanistan's shattered communities, using music to recuperate their musical culture and rebuild their sense of identity. Baily's work falls into three categories: education about Afghan music, in and outside Afghan communities; preservation of Afghan musical culture; and deploying musical practice to restore community identity and dignity. His post-2008 work builds on his pioneering research and the Afghanistan Music Unit, founded in 2002. His scholarship is rooted in research, practice, networks, and decades of experience, giving him unique insight into Afghanistan's music and its citizens at home and abroad. Through his interactions with musicians, educators and policy-makers, as well as his own public performances, films and educational work, his research has had a major and direct influence in sustaining Afghan culture, both in Afghanistan and in its worldwide diaspora in Pakistan, Iran, Australia, Germany and the USA, as well as the UK.

Underpinning research

John Baily has worked at Goldsmiths since 1990, as Senior Lecturer, then Professor in Ethnomusicology (recently Emeritus Professor). His ethnomusicological research in Afghanistan began in 1973 and continued in the near and wider diasporas. His wife Veronica Doubleday has played an important role in the research from its inception in 1973 and has been (intermittently) a Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths since 2002. Drawing on fieldwork initially in Afghanistan, and subsequently in the wider diaspora, his research has engaged closely with Afghan musicians and their cultural life around the world, with an active role in the revival of Afghan music through performance and educational channels. This interrelationship has resulted in an interlocking range of scholarly outputs and impact outside academia, extending from monographs and articles in leading international journals, to ethnographic films, research-led concerts and recordings, consultancy and reports, as well as direct educational interventions.

Baily's book `Can you stop the birds singing?' The censorship of music in Afghanistan with accompanying CD (2001) has been highly influential and republished several times.[1] In 2002 he visited Kabul with funding from the British Academy, to evaluate the state of musical life after the fall of the Taliban. He produced a report with numerous recommendations and the associated documentary film A Kabul Music Diary.[2] Musical life had revived quickly with the return of musicians from exile, and popular music was flourishing, but traditional art music was in a fragile state. As a first step towards remedying this situation, Baily was appointed in 2003 as a part-time consultant to the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (AKMICA), and he set up a Tradition Bearers Programme to support traditional art music education in Kabul, described further below.

In 2006 Baily's research took on a new direction, following the receipt of a grant from the AHRC Diasporas, Migration and Identities Programme to research Afghan music in London and its relationship to the rest of the transnational Afghan community. Fieldwork for this research in London, Kabul, Hamburg and Dublin signalled a new focus for AMU on music in the Afghan diaspora. A series of articles and a film Scenes of Afghan Music demonstrated that the centres of musical creativity had moved from Kabul to the diaspora, particularly to cities with large numbers of Afghan expatriates in Germany and the US.[3,4,5]

From 2008 to 2011, Baily held a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship to work on research materials garnered from field trips conducted between 1985 and 2006. The Fellowship also supported two months' research on Afghan music in Australia in 2009, when Baily and Doubleday were Visiting Scholars in the Monash Asia Institute.[6] Baily's recent publications have included studies of music and censorship[7] and the role of the BBC in Afghanistan.[8]

References to the research

Evidence of the international quality of the research: Items 3-4, and 7-8 are chapters of international significance in widely disseminated books from major publishers.

1. Baily, J (2001) `Can you stop the birds singing?' The censorship of music in Afghanistan, with accompanying CD (Copenhagen: Freemuse; reprinted several times). [Hard copy available from Research Office on request]

2. Baily, J (2002) Ethnomusicological fieldwork in Kabul to assess the situation of music in the post-Taliban era. Report to the (British Academy's) Committee for Central and Inner Asia. Links to the film A Kabul Music Diary. [Hard copy available from Research Office on request]

3. Baily, J (2009) Rebuilding Kabul's art music culture in the post-Taliban era. In Schramm M (Ed.) Musik in Fremdwahrnehmung, Bonn: Militärmusikdienst der Bundeswehr, pp 125-136. [Hard copy available from Research Office on request]

4. Baily, J (2010) The Circulation of Music Between Afghanistan and the Afghan Diaspora. In: Angela Schlenkoff and Ceri Oeppen (Eds.), Beyond "the Wild Tribes": understanding modern Afghanistan and its diaspora, London: Hurst & Co, pp 157-71.
[Hard copy available from Research Office on request]


5. Baily, J. (2010) Scenes of Afghan Music: London, Kabul, Hamburg, Dublin, DVD (97 mins). London: Goldsmiths. 2007 (released 2010). [Available from Research Office on request]

6. Baily, J. (2010) Afghan Music in Australia. Migrações, Journal of the Portuguese Observatory No. 7, Special Issue on Music and Migration. Maria de São José Côrte-Real (ed.), Lisboa, Portugal. pp 157-76. [Hard copy available from Research Office on request]

7. Baily, J. (2009) Music and Censorship in Afghanistan, 1972-2003. In Nooshin L. (ed.), Music and the Play of Power: Music, Politics and Ideology in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Aldershot: Ashgate Press, pp 143-163. [Hard copy available from Research Office on request]

8. Baily, J. (2011) Music, migration and war: the BBC's interactive music broadcasting to Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora. In Toynbee J and Dueck B (eds), Migrating Music, Abingdon: Routledge, pp 180-94. [Hard copy available from Research Office on request]

Details of the impact

Educational impacts

In 2002, Baily's research highlighted the fragile state of Kabul's art music, which forms part of Afghanistan's intangible cultural heritage. The AKMICA Tradition Bearers education initiatives resulting from the research report and film cited above have successfully reversed this trend. Using his deep knowledge of local music culture, Baily set up the first school in Kabul and immediately appointed four of Kabul's master-musicians (ustads) as teachers, asking them to recruit suitable students from hereditary musician families; later, following his recommendations, AKMICA appointed a full-time Afghan Coordinator, and in 2006 a second school was opened in Herat city. The impact of the programme since 2008 is documented in the Aga Khan Newsletter of February 2012, with a report of 64 successfully graduating students at the two AKMICA schools in Kabul and Herat.[1] At present the two schools have 157 students (20 of these female). Their work is not simply a matter of preserving tradition, but also of promoting creativity and development within this tradition. These schools have also improved the low status of hereditary musicians, who are now seen both as artists and as music educators.

At Monash in 2009, Baily worked closely with Dr Ahmad Sarmast, who was raising funds for the co-educational vocational music school in Kabul that opened under Dr Sarmast's direction in 2010 as the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM). In 2011 Baily was sent by the Society for Education Music and Psychology Research (SEMPRE) as their Special Ambassador to Afghanistan, to visit ANIM and informally evaluate its activities. While there he videoed material for a 30-minute documentary film, Return of the Nightingales,[2] subsequently edited in collaboration with Dr Evangelos Himonides, Senior Lecturer in IT and Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London. This is now being shown in the UK and abroad to raise awareness of ANIM's impressive work and to recruit Western interns for the school.

Baily's research on the global circulation of Afghan music and the scarcity of teaching materials has led to the development on an online tutor for the national instrument, the rubab (a short-necked lute), in collaboration with Dr Himonides. The Online Afghan Rubab Tutor has become a major multi-media pedagogical resource for Afghanistan, with a large collection of notated compositions as well as audio and video recordings, and a role going far beyond teaching people to play the instrument. ANIM's Director wrote: "It is a wonderful idea to have an online rubab tutor. It definitely would contribute to the training of ANIM students and other rubab lovers from all over the world".[3] Baily and Doubleday have been invited to teach and perform Afghan music at ANIM's 4th Winter Academy in Kabul in January 2014, when the usefulness of the rubab tutor can be assessed.

Directly related to the Online Afghan Rubab Tutor was a series of workshops on rubab performance at the Asian Music Centre, Acton, London (2010-11), and at The Music Room, an Afghan community centre in Wembley (2012-13). In addition Baily and Doubleday contributed to events surrounding the major British Museum Exhibition Afghanistan — Crossroads of the Ancient World. At two Young Friends Events (9 April and 7 May 2011) a presentation of Afghan music and dance with an Afghan family involved teaching large groups of Young Friends and their parents to dance the attan, the national dance of Afghanistan. Alice le Page at the Museum wrote:

"I would also like to thank you and Veronica for delivering such wonderful sessions. It's a real pleasure to have music filling the Museum and even more so when the families are actively involved with it. Many of the families commented on how much they enjoyed your workshop and I hope you did too — despite the long evening!" [4]

Recognising that military bands have the potential to engage beneficially with local Afghan musicians, the Royal Military School of Music (Kneller Hall) organised an Afghan Music Study Day on 3 May 2012. Under the guidance of the AMU, a team of Afghan musicians and dancers worked with four groups of bandsmen preparing for deployment to Afghanistan, all of whom learned to dance the attan.

Performance and media impacts

Baily and Doubleday have been giving concerts of Afghan music for many years. Their impact has been mainly on Afghan audiences. Baily's 2006 AHRC grant involved organising a concert of Afghan music in Goldsmiths's Great Hall (23 November 2006) in which Baily and Doubleday were key performers and which attracted a large audience of Afghans. It was subsequently broadcast in full by California-based Noor TV (22 October 2008) [4]. Baily and Doubleday have appeared many times on the BBC Persian Service, including the Studio 7 radio programme and the TV programme Tamasha. Their concert in Sydney (22 March 2009) attracted a large Afghan audience, and was published as a DVD and shown in Afghanistan, on Herat TV.[5] Their most recent major concert was in Southbank's Purcell Room (21 April 2013).

In addition to their performance activities, Baily and Doubleday have taken every opportunity to further knowledge and understanding of Afghan traditional music among Afghan and wider communities. In London, they had frequent contact with the BBC World Service Persian Service, supporting its promotion of Afghan music among Afghan listeners; a very fruitful resource was the popular weekly interactive live phone-in programme Studio 7. In Sydney in 2009 they took part in numerous television and radio interviews. The respect in which Baily is held was signalled by an invitation to speak at the inaugural National Folkloric Music Seminar and Festival (Kabul, 23-24 October 2011), the only non-Afghan to be so honoured.[6]

Public affirmation

Abdul Wahab Madadi, a renowned Afghan singer and writer, and the former Head of Music of Afghan Radio and Television, spoke at Baily and Doubleday's Now Ruz concert for the Afghan community in Hamburg (14 March 2008).[7] He asserted that:

"[their] contribution to awareness of Afghan music has been much greater than anything the Afghanistan Ministry of Culture has done towards [sic] our culture and heritage".

The Noor TV broadcast of the (aforementioned) Goldsmiths concert ended with viewers phoning in with their comments.[8] Viewers thanked Noor TV for broadcasting "one of the best music groups", who "play the real Afghan music". One viewer said:

"I have known John Baily and Veronica Doubleday for a long time and they are people who are in love with Afghan music, culture and heritage. We must support them for keeping true Afghan music alive."

Baily and Doubleday's work has been praised at length in Nasruddin Saljoqi's Persian translation and adaptation of Baily's CUP monograph Music of Afghanistan: Professional musicians in the city of Herat (1988), published in Kabul in 2010.[9]

On 10 November 2012 Baily and Doubleday were honoured by the Herati community in London, when they gave a concert in The Music Room, an Afghan venue in Wembley. Among speeches by Afghans praising their work was the statement by Dr Hamid Simab, a retired psychiatrist and social activist living in Canada:

"Afghanistan for the last 35 years has been devastated in all aspects: political, social, economic, spiritual. But nowhere is this devastation more keenly felt than in the realm of artistic expression... all of us, as Afghans who have inherited what remains of our cultural heritage, are so deeply indebted to [Baily and Doubleday] for their lives' work... from the bottom of my heart — as an Afghan who appreciates your work, and I can say, on behalf of all Afghans — thank you for what you have done for us, thank you for what you have done for the culture of our country." [10]

In August 2011 Baily received an Illuminated Address from the Ministry of Information and Culture office in Herat: "Your valuable and tireless service in the strengthening and growth of the Herat music abroad is truly appreciated." [11]

Sources to corroborate the impact

All sources listed below are available in hard or electronic copy on request from Goldsmiths Research Office.

  1. Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Afghanistan Newsletter 31, February 2012
  2. Return of the Nightingales. DVD. SEMPRE, Institute of Education, London
  3. Online Afghan Rubab Tutor,
  4. BM email (Email, Thu, April 14, 2011)
  5. Veronica and John Baily, in concert, Sydney, Nowruz (22.3.09). DVD.
  6. Afghanistan's first Folkloric Music Seminar and Festival, certificate
  7. Speech by Abdul Wahab Madadi at Nowruz concert in Hamburg (14.3.08)
  8. Noor TV transmission (22.10.08). Certificate of appreciation.
  9. Saljoqi's book Musiqi dar Afghanistan: Musiqidanan dar shahr-e Herat. Kabul: Bihaqy Publishers, Ministry of Information and Culture. 2010.
  10. Music Room concert (10.11.12). DVD available from <>
  11. Illuminated address from Ministry of Information and Culture office in Herat