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What’s hot in Kabul today? Apparently, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai = hot, Fakhir Mohammed = not. Can’t say I blame them.

Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2001 13:51:13 -0000
From: “Martin Adamson” (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Afghan music latest: Last chance to buy Osama praise songs

Evening Standard – 14 November 2001

In his music shop Mohamed Salim is quite literally erasing the Taliban from Kabul – taping new music over the cassettes of religious chanting which the former regime forced him to sell.

Today’s victim is former Taliban Top Ten chanter Fakhir Mohammed, whose monotonous warbles were a firm favourite until the regime fled on Monday. Now a tape of his chants is being dubbed over with the soundtrack from an Indian film.

Getting to the front counter in Salim’s shop means fighting your way past dozens of young men, all eager for tapes. For the moment he has run out, producing new ones only as fast as his tape-to-tape machine can dub over the Taliban cassettes. “This is the best business in five years,” he says. “We’re very happy just to hear music again.” Outside, Salim’s music merges with the cacophony of tunes – Indian and Western

  • being pumped into the street at maximum volume.

Until Monday night, when the Taliban fled, Farashgar was a grim place to visit: those shops which bothered to put music onto their speaker systems had only repetitive chants to offer. Business was bad, and also uncertain. “If a Talib came to the shop, he would say ‘give me one cassette, I will pay you after’,” said Salim, 22. “But maybe the money would never come. What could you do?” What they did was sell underground music: many of the tape boxes on Salim’s shelves held a secret.

He shows me why. On the labels of some cassette boxes are the names of various Taliban chanters. But he opens the box to reveal, scrawled over the tape, an Indian singer. “We would sell this way, to people we know. The hard thing was remembering which singer was in which cassette box.” The other hard thing were the men from the notorious Ministry for Vice and Virtue. These so called “religious police” were the Taliban’s gestapo, and the shopkeepers of Farashgar were a favourite target. “I was in jail four times. For one month, for one week, the last for 18 days,” says Salim.

In the next-door shop to Salim’s, his friend Mohamed Talut Taheri says: “Sometimes they could come to raid, they would open all the
cassette boxes, then you were caught. The other way was that someone would be arrested for something. They would search him and find a cassette. If he told them where he got it, you were in jail.”

Now the problem is supply. With the overland route to Pakistan cut, there are no more CDs and only dubbed tapes on offer to a public clamourous for music. This means prices have shot up: A tape from Salim’s shop that was £1.80 when you risked jail to buy it is now £2.80. But nothing drives away the customers. “We love to hear music. Indian, Western, it doesn’t matter,” says Salim. “It’s just so nice that music is back.”

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