• Nowruz celebration showcases a joyful Afghanistan

Nowruz celebration showcases a joyful Afghanistan

23 April 2015

BAAG brought a taste of Afghanistan to central London last week with their Nowruz Celebration at Canada House.  Over 100 guests were treated to the sights, sounds and tastes of Afghanistan during a 2 hour cultural show.

Nowruz is the marking of the New Year in the Jalali calendar of Afghanistan and Iran, and is celebrated on the 20th or 21st March.  Nowruz means new day, and welcomes in the warmer spring weather after the snows of winter.   

Whilst it is becoming somewhat of a cliché to say every year is a ‘critical’ or ‘important’ one for Afghanistan, the Nowruz of 2015 has reflected the forward-looking and hopeful sentiments felt in the country.  Under a recently elected new government, with strengthened relations across the region and further afield, and the promise of peace talks on the horizon, these are indeed new days. 

BAAG’s Nowruz event focused on this celebration of change, by showing our predominantly British audience a side of Afghanistan rarely depicted by our media.  We aimed to change perspectives for the positive, and demonstrate why British and international commitments to Afghanistan’s ongoing development are so important. 

The evening included a panel discussion, between three young Afghans currently studying at British universities on Chevening Scholarships from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.  These students represent the bright future of Afghanistan.  They are likely to resume their positions of leadership in Afghan politics, civil society and development at the end of this year.  The audience were encouraged to hear they are ‘optimistic for the future’ and their views on issues such as community-led rural development and the vibrant media sector.

But the highlight of the evening was the musical performances and the lively Afghan dance demonstration.  BAAG were honoured to host Afghan musical legends John Baily and Veronica Doubleday.  John is Emeritus Professor of Ethnomusicology at Goldsmiths University and has, with wife Veronica, studied Afghan music since 1973. They performed on the Herati Dutar and Daira.  Other performers included Rubab player Milad Yousofi who has performed at the White House and for British royalty, and a newly formed group of Afghan graduates from University College London who roused the audience with their rendition of a popular 1950’s Afghan song by Ahmad Zahir.

Dancing to the live music of Milad and his Darbuka player, Afghan dance expert Ziba Tabrizi enthralled the audience with her colourful and expressive performance.  Afghan dance performed by women is rarely seen outside of the home, making her performance especially enjoyable.

As BAAG’s Director Jawed Nader commented in his welcome speech, the spirit of Nowruz is sometimes threatened.  During the Taliban rule, non-religious public celebrations were banned.  Even now, some conservative Afghans espouse that Nowruz, based on the spring equinox, is haram, forbidden in terms of Islamic teachings.  ‘On this day let’s understand that in Afghanistan and some other parts of the world some people are still being denied the basic freedom to be happy,’ he stated. ‘The progressive and peace-loving people of these nations need our long-term support to make their lives and those of their children more rewarding and fulfilling.’

BAAG is grateful to the support of Canada House and its staff in hosting the event, to the stall-holders who showcased traditional Afghan crafts, to the Chevening Scholar panellists (Arafat Safi, Mustafa Jamal and Mujtaba Ayan), to our moderator Emma Graham-Harrison of The Guardian and all the performers.  Moreover, we thank our guests for exploring with us a small slice of Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage and hope we can secure their ongoing support to Afghanistan. 

For more photos of the event, visit BAAG's Flickr album.