Dubbed the world's first stealth concert, Sound Central is ready to rock the capital of Afghanistan. Founded by Australian Travis Beard, a photojournalist and guitarist in the Kabul-based rock band, White City, Sound Central is a rock music festival bringing artists from around Central Asia to Kabul for a groundbreaking modern music festival.
Beard has made Kabul his home for the past five years and has left his mark on Kabul in unique ways. A founding member of Kabul Knights Motorcycle Club, Skateistan and Wallords, and co-founder of Combat Communications, an umbrella organization of artists and musicians, Travis has delved into a country known for little else besides terrorism and poverty through motorcycle touring, photography, rock music, and street art. Now he is bringing the power of modern music and self-expression to the masses in the form of Sound Central, the first ever Central Asian modern music festival along with New York City-based producer Daniel Gerstle.
The festival features four Afghan-based rock bands, including the emerging young band Kabul Dreams, as well as musicians from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Iran, Pakistan, Australia, Sweden, UK, and the US. The Kabul series of events begins with the Sound Studies, an invitation-only musicians' workshop during which Festival Rock Ambassador Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls, Faisal Mustafa, and Izzy Brown among others will cover topics such as music production, performing at risk, guitar and bass and new media production, as Afghan and Central Asian musicians build solidarity and prepare to take on the world. The main concert is till firmly under wraps, but when unveiled, twelve bands will take to the stage to rock Kabul.
This is the first rock concert held in Afghanistan since Ahmad Zahir's show in 1975 before the Soviet occupation set off the now nearly forty years of conflict. It's an important reminder that Afghanistan once enjoyed modern music, tourism, and other freedoms lost over the past decades of conflict and oppression. The Taliban banned recorded music when they controlled Afghanistan up until 2001, and even today modern musicians and youth activists are targets for violence. Female performers in particular are at great risk, and not just in Afghanistan. Radicals from Iran to Uzbekistan continue to threaten or harass musicians and modernists, and female rockers such as Iran's Maral are often forced to perform in secret or underground.
A recent upswing in attacks around Kabul over the past month have added additional challenges for the festival organizers. Increased security restrictions affected the opening night jam session and workshop, which was rescheduled after the attacks on the US Embassy affected their original venue location. Flexibility is key for this festival as both dates and venues for the main event and several side shows are left unannounced till 24 hours before to ensure security. But the musicians flying in from all over Central Asia and the US are still undeterred, seeming to echo Beard's sentiment,"The show must go on."
"Bottom line is we want to show Afghan & Central Asian youth what a peaceful Afghanistan could look like. We want to get beyond the politics and the war and celebrate life, freedom of expression, and rock and roll."