Killing Culture: The Execution of Fawad Andarabi

by Gus Denhard

On August 28, 2021, Fawad Andarabi, an Afghani bard and culture bearer, was executed by the Taliban at his home in the Andarab Valley, about 90 miles north of Kabul. A singer of traditional songs and epic poetry, Andarabi accompanied himself on the ghichak, a bowed lute. His art was an ancient one; think of Homer, the Iliad and Odyssey, or Beowulf. In the west we have worked to bring back our lost arts through the comparatively recent early music movement. In places like Afghanistan culture bearers have been able to do what the West has not: maintain ancient artistic heritage as living traditions.

The murder of someone of the stature of Fawad Andarabi is akin to setting a library on fire. Hundreds of songs, tens of thousands of stanzas of poetry, and the collective memory of the Tajiks, Pashtuns, Uzbeks, Hazara, and Tatars inhabiting the valley were erased in a second. Artists like Andarabi, living quietly on his family farm, are dangerous to a regime bent on imposing a social reset on Afghanistan. History, memory, identity, community, and belonging become the enemy.

As I mourn the loss of such a person, I can’t help reflecting on the situation we face in the arts closer to home. Do we recognize and value the Fawad Andarabis in our own communities, the artists that carry and celebrate our cultural heritage? We are witnessing an erosion of the western artforms that serve as part of our collective memory. At the same time many arts institutions continue to deny recognition and support to the treasured music, dance, literature, and visual art of an ever-growing percentage of our population.  We are suffering a loss/denial of our cultural heritage that is difficult to parse due to its glacial pace, our political divisions, and because of our immersion in troubled times. This moment should challenge all of us to reflect more deeply on the true value of the arts in our country and the important role they will need to play in the future we are building.  We can’t afford to lose another Andarabi.

Taliban executes folk singer after announcing a public music ban in Afghanistan

Rubab and Tabla – Afghan Melodies
Afghani Rabab: “Valley” Folksong
Sakina – Afghan Women’s Orchestra “Zohra”
Beethoven “Ode to Joy” – Afghan Women’s Orchestra “Zohra”
Afghan Women’s Orchestra “Zohra” – Jama Narenji
Afghan Instrumental – Rubab from Afghanistan
Breaking The Silence – Music in Afganistan