Four songs travelled forth and back between Afghanistan and Germany. And the journey goes on.

The cultural integration of refugees in Europe reaches out to music. Hardly any of the big summer music festivals embarked without a headliner that emphasizes the refugee topic. To name a few: Rockstar Damon Albarn opened at Roskilde Festival with refugees on stage, the Berlin Philharmonics welcomed a Syrian Expat Orchestra in their classical music temple in August and the Foerde Festival chose ‚Flight‘ as its overall topic. Numerous smaller activities push cultural integration on a local level.

The topic is relevant. Often activists bother about their ignorance. The refugee’s culture may be simply unknown. And stories of interaction between Europeans and for example Afghans are rare and often not traceable. Rumours and stereotypes are hard to (in)validate. The need for information is obvious. Can Europeana help out as a good source of information for activists? It’s hard to guess how big the challenge may be. Europeana may disclose its potential as a knowledge base if it focuses on relevant developments from a historical perspective. Here comes an example.

Afghanistan | Grande-Bretagne. War office. Auteur du texte, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public domain.

Afghanistan | Grande-Bretagne. War office. Auteur du texte, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public domain.

The story: 100 years ago prisoners of war were detained South of Berlin in the so called Half-Moon-Camp. They had served in the British Army but were mainly Arabs and Asians, many of them Muslims. Germany wanted to turn them into renegades against Great Britain. A strong film document covers a Bayram-celebration in the camp (end of the fasting month of Ramadan).

It is not clear how voluntarily the prisoners performed in the parade. Very little is also known about the recording of songs from the soldier‘s region of origin. That’s why access to the audio for the general public is limited by the LAUT-Archive in Berlin, which hosts the recordings. Including the recordings of Abdul Kadir Khan, who sang in Pashto on May 25 1916 into a gramophone. That’s the past.

Rubab, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz - Ethnologisches Museum, CC BY-NC-SA.

Rubab, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz – Ethnologisches Museum, CC BY-NC-SA.

The story continues today. For some years musicologists from the University of music in Weimar established a close cooperation with a music school in Kabul, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM).

Rehearsal in ANIM in Kabul, image from the video "SAFAR 2016 - hundred years old recording returns to Afghanistan, by Markus Schlaffke

Rehearsal in ANIM in Kabul. Image from the video “SAFAR 2016 – hundred years old recording returns to Afghanistan”, by Markus Schlaffke.

A report about ANIM can be found in Europeana, as well as some songs from Afghanistan for example Baz karé man va mashough beh peygham oftad : Afghani song.

 

Percussion in ANIM. Image from the video "SAFAR 2016 - hundred years old recording returns to Afghanistan", by Markus Schlaffke.

Percussion in ANIM. Image from the video “SAFAR 2016 – hundred years old recording returns to Afghanistan”, by Markus Schlaffke.

Only recently the artistic project manager in Germany took files from the 1916 camp recordings to Kabul and played them to artists in ANIM.

In September 2016 some of the songs shall be performed by a mixed Afghan/German ensemble in Afghanistan and Germany. The concerts will be recorded in audio and film. The discussion is on, how that material can be presented to a wider public. Next to television and radio broadcasts Europeana would be a great place to expose the documentation from this work. The next chapter of the European Afghan cultural encounter will be written. It can also be filed under culture of refugees.

by Johannes Theurer, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB)