Afghan pop star challenges cultural norms

Afghan pop star challenges cultural norms

The show is over. The stage lights have been dimmed. Participants and judges move to the small green rooms at the back of the heavily fortified studio of Kabul’s most-watched entertainment show, “Afghan Star,” which follows a similar format as American Idol. A few members of the thoroughly vetted audience linger behind in the hopes of catching a closer glimpse of the judges, who are renowned celebrities within the Afghan music industry. Maybe they’ll get the chance to shake their hands, or, inshallah, get a selfie.

Aryana Sayeed, one of the judges and the only woman on the panel, stays behind to oblige some of the fans.

“I love you,” shouts one young girl, while dodging the security guard who is attempting to direct her to the door. She is one among the many young Afghan girls who came to watch their heroine perform live. In response, Sayeed blows her a kiss.

A rise to fame

There are few people in Afghanistan who haven’t heard of Sayeed, a local pop star who shot to fame and celebrity in the war-torn country, breaking records and stereotypes in a deeply conservative society.

Not too long ago, music was entirely banned in Afghanistan. Female musicians were unheard of during the Taliban regime. While a lot has changed in Afghanistan since the fall of Taliban in 2001, female singers are still not looked upon favorably by many.

In such an environment, Sayeed’s music and her very personality, clash with the patriarchal values guarded closely by the country’s most fundamentalist crowd. However, she is positive that things are changing.

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