The day the music died

Music has always occupied an important place in Afghan society, serving as a medium of expression, storytelling and a celebration of cultural identity. For decades, Afghan musicians have also played a vital role in providing solace to our war-torn nation. But the situation has completely changed since the return of the Taliban to power. Musicians are one of the most severely affected of the many sections of Afghan society by Taliban rule. A once vibrant community of artists is now facing repression. Like other art forms, the Taliban consider music un-Islamic as per their strict interpretation of Islam. The lives of musicians are endangered, their livelihoods and artistic freedom deprived.

Artists who survived and worked covertly during the previous stint of Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 were aware of the dark future that awaited them and were haunted by old memories. When the Kabul fell on 15 August 2021 many musicians fled. Rashid Khan, one of the famous musicians based in Kabul, told us that on the second night after the fall of Kabul, he got a call from the security guard of his studio to tell him that people with guns had entered the office, broke all the instruments and set them on fire. They enquired about him before leaving and the incident terrified Khan. The next day he escaped to Pakistan with his family.

The Artistic Freedom Initiative, which helps with the resettlement of international artists who are persecuted or censored, in the past two years has received more than 3,000 requests from Afghan artists for relocation.

For those who remained the attacks started immediately and grew and grew. Just a couple of days into the Taliban’s regime they brutally killed a famous folklore singer. On 27 August 2021, Fawad Andarabi was murdered at home.

Restrictions were put in place surrounding live performances, public gatherings and entertainment venues. The music industry came to a halt. Many had to retrain, if they could. One of those is a singer named Abdul Qadir, who has started working as a motorcycle mechanic.

The ministry of vice and virtue banned music on the national broadcasting network. All entertainment channels on television and radio were no longer allowed to play any music. Today they are only allowed to play the Naghmas/Taranas (patriotic and nationalist songs) of the Taliban, which are “songs” with slogans and without any actual music. They’re designed to promote the ideology of the Taliban, glorify the leaders of the Taliban and romanticise their achievements.

The Afghanistan National Institute of Music was closed. The centre’s director, Ahmed Sarmast, says we are witnessing the end of great musical heritage and we agree.

Once a famous spot for music and entertainment in Kabul, Sar e chowk has now been turned into a regular market with no sign or remnants of music anywhere. The market used to be full of shops selling musical instruments. It had small studios where artists, musicians and singers would gather to make songs, create music and entertain people. That is now all gone and instead people sell fruit and vegetables.

In attempts to completely eradicate music from society, it is even banned during weddings. What happens to those who ignore the ban? In October 2021 people with guns entered a wedding ceremony in Nangahar where music was playing. They tried to break the loud speaker. When guests resisted, the armed people fired at them, killing two and injuring 10.

In a recent attack the Taliban confiscated musical instruments in the west province of Herat on 30 July 2023 and set them on fire.

These are just some examples in an endless list.

In these testing times, the international community must not forget Afghan musicians and artists. While providing humanitarian aid and evacuation to all vulnerable populations, there is a dire need to extend support to the artistic community as well. Collaborative efforts with international arts organisations, cultural exchanges and virtual platforms can offer a lifeline to Afghan musicians, allowing them to continue their craft and share their talent with the world.

Contents – Express yourself: Overcoming neurodiversity stereotypes


The Summer 2023 issue of Index looks at neurodiversity, the term coined in the late 1990s to identify and promote the positives of variation in human thinking which has become more widely used in the past few years. Are old stereotypes still rife? Has the perception of neurodiversity improved? If not, was this because of censorship? Using neurodivergent voices, we wanted to know about this in a global context.

The majority of the articles are written by neurodivergent people, as we wanted to put their voices front and centre. Many said they did have more of a voice, awareness had shot up and the word “neurodiversity” empowered and welcomed a growth in onscreen representation. However, at the same time it was clear that conversations around neurodiversity were playing out along society’s current fault-lines and were far from immune.

Up Front

Mind matters, by Jemimah Seinfeld: The term neurodiversity has positively challenged how we approach our minds. Has it done enough?

The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest in free expression news, from an explainer on Sudan to a cha-cha-cha starring Meghan and King Charles.


Bars can't stop a bestseller, by Kaya Genç: Fiction is finding its way out of a Turkish prison, says former presidential hopeful and bestselling writer
Selahattin Demirtaş.

Don't mention femicide, by Chris Havler-Barrett: Murdered women are an inconvenience for Mexico’s president.

This is no joke, by Qian Gong and Jian Xu: The treatment of China’s comedians is no laughing matter.

Silent Disco, by Andrew Mambondiyani: Politicians are purging playlists in Zimbabwe, and musicians are speaking out.

When the Russians came, by Alina Smutko, Taras Ibragimov and Aliona Savchuk: The view from inside occupied Crimea, through the cameras of photographers banned by the Kremlin.

The language of war and peace, by JP O’Malley: Kremlin-declared “Russophobe foreign agent and traitor” Mikhail Shishkin lays out the impossible choices for Russians.

Writer's block, by Stacey Tsui: Hong Kong’s journalists are making themselves heard, thanks to blockchain technology.

The Russians risking it all, by Katie Dancey-Downs: Forced to sing songs and labelled as extremists, anti-war Russians are finding creative ways to take a stand.

The 'truth' is in the tea, by Jemimah Steinfeld: Spilling the tea on a London venue, which found itself in hot water due to a far-right speaker.

Waiting for China's tap on the shoulder, by Chu Yang: However far they travel, there’s no safe haven for journalists and academics who criticise China.

When the old fox walks the tightrope, by Danson Kahyana: An interview with Stella Nyanzi on Uganda’s latest anti-LGBTQ+ law.

Would the media lie to you?, by Ali Latifi: Fake news is flourishing in Afghanistan, in ways people might not expect.

Britain's Holocaust island, by Martin Bright: Confronting Britain’s painful secret, and why we must acknowledge what happened on Nazi-occupied Alderney.

The thorn in Vietnam's civil society side, by Thiện Việt: Thiện Việt: Responding to mass suppression with well-organised disruption.

Special Report: Express yoruself: Overcoming neurodiversity stereotypes

Not a slur, by Nick Ransom: What’s in a word? Exploring representation, and the power of the term “neurodiversity” to divide or unite.

Sit down, shut up, by Katharine P Beals: The speech of autistic non-speakers is being hijacked.

Fake it till you break it, by Morgan Barbour: Social media influencers are putting dissociative identity disorder in the spotlight, but some are accused of faking it.

Weaponising difference, by Simone Dias Marques: Ableist slurs in Brazil are equating neurodivergence with criminality.

Autism on screen is gonna be okay, by Katie Dancey-Downs: The Rain Man days are over. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay star Lillian Carrier digs into autism on screen.

Raising Malaysia's roof, by Francis Clarke: In a comedy club in Malaysia’s capital stand up is where people open up, says comedian Juliana Heng.

Living in the Shadows, by Ashley Gjøvik: When successful camouflage has a lasting impact.

Nigeria's crucible, by Ugonna-Ora Owoh: Between silence and lack of understanding, Nigeria’s neurodiverse are being mistreated.

My autism is not a lie, by Meltem Arikan: An autism diagnosis at 52 liberated a dissident playwright, but there’s no space for her truth in Turkey.


Lived experience, to a point, by Julian Baggini: When it comes to cultural debates, whose expertise carries the most weight?

France: On the road to illiberalism? by Jean-Paul Marthoz: Waving au revoir to the right to criticise.

Monitoring terrorists, gangs - and historians, by Andrew Lownie: The researcher topping the watchlist on his majesty’s secret service.

We are all dissidents, by Ruth Anderson: Calls to disassociate from certain dissidents due to their country of birth are toxic and must be challenged.


Manuscripts don't burn, by Rebecca Ruth Gould: Honouring the writers silenced by execution in Georgia, and unmuzzling their voices.

Obscenely familiar, by Marc Nash: A book arguing for legalised homosexuality is the spark for a fiction rooted in true events.

A truly graphic tale, by Taha Siddiqui and Zofeen T Ebrahim: A new graphic novel lays bare life on Pakistan’s kill list, finding atheism and a blasphemous tattoo.

A censored day? by Kaya Genç: Unravelling the questions that plague the censor, in a new short story from the Turkish author.

Poetry's peacebuilding tentacles, by Natasha Tripney: Literature has proven its powers of peace over the last decade in Kosovo.

Palestine: I still have hope, by Bassem Eid: Turning to Israel and Palestine, where an activist believes the international community is complicit in the conflict.

Oct 2016: Norwegian musician Moddi stands #WithTheBanned


To mark the release of Norwegian musician Moddi’s new album, Unsongs, Index on Censorship is proud to announce a special series of appearances by currently banned voices from around the world.

Moddi will hand over the stage at three of the biggest gigs on his current European tour to unleash the power of free expression, replacing the support band with the genuinely banned.

In Amsterdam on 1 October, Maryam Al-Khawaja will share her and her family’s story of imprisonment and exile in the struggle for democracy in Bahrain. In London on 3 October, Vanessa Berhe will speak about life in the prison state of Eritrea and her campaign One Day Seyoum fighting to free her journalist uncle Seyoum Tsehaye who has been in jail for 15 years. In Berlin on 6 October, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently will tell how the Syrian civil war has destroyed the free expression of a generation. Co-founder Abdalaziz Alhamza will share the story of how and why he co-founded it inside IS-controlled territory.

“Unsongs is a remarkable collection of songs that have, at one stage, been banned, censored or silenced. The attempts to suppress them were as mild as an airplay ban and as brutal as murder. With great sensitivity and imagination, Norwegian singer-songwriter Moddi has given them new life and created a moving and eye-opening album. Unsongs simultaneously celebrates the censored and exposes the censors.” – Dorian Lynskey

Amsterdam, Jeruzalemkerk, Saturday 1 October, 8:30pm

The Banned: Maryam Al-Khawaja (Bahrain)


London, St. Giles-In-The-Fields, Monday 3 October, 8pm

The Banned: Vanessa Berhe (Eritrea)


Berlin, Silent Green, Thursday 6th October, 8pm

The Banned: Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (Syria)


The series will be launched with a live Twitter chat with Moddi and Index on Censorship on Thursday 29 September at 3pm. Ask Moddi a question using the hashtag #WithTheBanned.