Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Helmand's Cultural Craze

A new style of music sweeps the province.
A style of music called“Japoni” is becoming popular, especially among young people. Japoni music first became popular in remote parts of Helmand province, but today it is being played at parties in the city of Lashkar Gah.

Our reporter Qudratullah reports on this new form of music:

The Japoni is a musical instrument made of wood, with strings fashioned from wires taken from a motorcycle transmission. It also has piano-style keys. The musician plucks the strings with the right hand and uses the buttons with the left. All ten fingers working together make a very sweet sound.

This music is played largely in the villages, making a lovely sound.

At the moment I’m at a party where Japoni music is being played. A lot of young people have gathered in a dark room where a single lamp is on. Bismellah, a young man sitting in the corner, is playing his instrument.

Twenty-five-year-old Bismellah, with a black turban, long clothes, and sweat coming down his face, talks into the microphone.

He smiles as he plays the Japoni. In Japoni music, backing is provided by a drum called the “daira”. Most of Helmand’s singers now prefer to be accompanied by a Japoni ensemble rather than other musical instruments. The singers say the instrument used in Japoni is both portable and loud.

Bismellah talks about when and how this Japoni music appeared in Afghanistan.

“The difference between Japoni and other forms of music is that it’s played only in the villages, and young people really prefer Japoni. The instrument is similar to the ‘dutar’ [traditional stringed instrument] and whenever it’s played it’s backed by the daira,” he says. “It isn’t easy to make a Japoni instrument.”

Naqibullah, a young guy who listens to Japoni music, says, “Young guys gather for parties, and before Japoni, people used musical instruments like the dutar, the rubab and the tambur. In Helmand province, people prefer Japoni nowadays. In other provinces they have the rubab, tambur and drum. But in Helmand they mix the daira with the Japoni.”

Although Japoni is an indigenous form of music, mullahs believe it should be banned because of Islamic precepts.

Mullah Abdul Walid says, “According to Islam, listening to any popular music, except the daira, is forbidden, as is playing music at religious ceremonies. This is because music is one of the blessings of heaven. It’s forbidden in this world.”

Although mullahs think that Japoni music should be forbidden, most of the young lads in Helmand spend their time playing Japoni. It’s a kind of music where there are a lot of amateur players, and it wins lots of hearts. It’s almost taken the place of mainstream music, because people in the villages love it.

Qudratullah, for IWPR in Helmand.

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