Singing a song for freedom
Quietly living and studying English in the south east Melbourne suburb of Dandenong is a man who with his music caused a wave of mass hysteria across a war-torn, fragmented nation.
In 2008 Navid Forogh won the Afghan Star talent competition – the equivalent of Australian Idol. At just 20 he became a youth culture sensation; Afghanistan’s Justin Beiber.
But with his success came a dreadful burden.
As the poster boy for a generation of Afghans who want a new, liberal, free and permissive way of life, Navid attracted the attention of the Taliban as well as conservative Muslim clerics.
As he was driving home from a concert one night, he was fired at by a masked gunman; one bullet grazing his shoulder.
The majority of Afghans want a new, modern future but a violent minority – which includes the Taliban and other extremist Islamic groups – are trying to drag the country back to medieval culture and practice.
Conservative Islamic clerics also disapprove of popular music. Kabul’s Mullah Abdullah told CNN earlier this year: “There is no place for the music in Islam. We will not permit this westernised music in Afghanistan”.
But Navid said there was a groundswell among young Afghanis who wanted to embrace western culture.
“No matter what our enemies do, Afghans want to go forward. We want a future where anything is possible and we can be free to express ourselves through our art,” he said.
The Taliban banned all music for five years when they held power but now even women are singing popular music. One of Navid’s rival finalists in Afghan Idol competition was female pop singer Naweed Saberpoor.
Afghan Idol was first broadcast in 2002 but the 2009 season was the first to achieve wide popularity and criticism from conservative and extremist groups. It was produced under heightened security and watched by 11 million people – a third of the Afghan population.
For many people, voting by phone for a favourite singer was their first taste of democracy.
Afghan Idol was created by entrepreneur Jahed Mohsini, who grew up in Australia. Presenter Doud Sediqi, who hosted the first three series, said the show’s aim was to “take people’s hands from weapons to music”.
Navid also saw his Idol win as a means to unite and galvanise the youth of Afghanistan.
In his acceptance speech, he said: “I want to thank all the people of Afghanistan for the votes. I was singing for everyone in this country no matter what their ethnic background”.
“The young people of Afghanistan want to modernise and be more like the west while keeping our own cultural identity,” Navid said this week.
After graduating from a mechanical high school in Kabul, Navid was running his family jewellery shop when he took up singing. He had released several albums in Afghanistan but his win on Afghan Idol catapulted him into serious national fame.
“I always loved singing and I seemed to have some talent for it but the Idol TV show really made my singing career grow,” Navid said.
His fame attracted the attention of the Taliban and he received death threats. “I was told the Taliban wanted to kill me so my only option was to leave the country,” he said.
Navid fled to Dubai were he applied for and was granted a refugee visa by the Australian embassy. He arrived in late June this year and has settled into a house in Dandenong with some friends.
Navid is currently studying English with AMES and hoping to relaunch his music career. He has performed at concerts organised by the local Afghan community in Dandenong.
“I would like to meet some Australian musicians to learn about how the music industry works here and maybe get some advice,” Navid said. “I love music and singing – it is my passion and would like very much to make a career in music,” he said.