"Here we can save our music", rejoices Ramiz, a young Afghan musician welcomed in the north of Portugal with several of his comrades from the national school of music who fled their country in 2021, after the seizure of power by the Taliban.
"Our hope is to be able to return to Afghanistan one day and show that our music is not dead," the 19-year-old told AFP, holding his rubab, a traditional string instrument, a kind of lute, on his knees. inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
Ramiz is one of 58 students at the National Institute of Music of Afghanistan (Anim), aged 13 to 21, living in the Portuguese cities of Braga and Guimaraes.
With his comrades, several teachers and part of their families, they were 273 refugees who arrived by plane in Lisbon on December 13, 2021, after leaving Afghanistan for fear of reprisals from the Taliban, who closed schools of music, put instruments under lock and key and prohibit public performances.
"When the Taliban arrived at the gates of Kabul, it was clear that we had to leave," recalls Ahmad Sarmast, the director of the Anim, who did everything to evacuate the students and staff in an emergency. institute.
The 61-year-old man lost part of his hearing in a Taliban attack in 2014.
"Today, Afghanistan is a nation reduced to silence", victim of "a cultural and musical genocide", adds this specialist in Afghan music, who has made it his mission to safeguard the musical heritage of his country. and to revive in Portugal the school he founded in 2010.
The project is "to recreate the music institute in exile", explains Mr. Sarmast. In Portugal, the school was able to reconstitute most of its activities, such as the symphony orchestra or the Zohra ensemble, the first all-female orchestra in Afghanistan, created in 2016.
"What we have left (to do) is the school itself," says Mr. Sarmast, who is looking for a room that can accommodate the Anim. He hopes that the opening of the school can materialize "in about two years".
While waiting to find a place where she can be reborn, her students are welcomed to the Music Conservatory of Braga, where they continue to play music, as if they were performing an act of resistance.
"Every show at our school is a way of protesting against what is happening in Afghanistan", observes "Dr Sarmast", as his students call him, who performed at the beginning of March at a concert with the famous American violinist of Japanese origin Midori Goto.
"It's very good to be here, because we are all together," says Shogufa, a 19-year-old percussionist who has shared a three-room apartment since the beginning of the year with another student in the neighborhood of the conservatory.
Thousands of kilometers from Kabul, Shogufa tries to take advantage of the freedom offered by this new life in Portugal. In her free time, this Beethoven fan enjoys composing music, cooking, going out for a burger or working out with her classmates at a neighborhood gym.
While in Afghanistan, high school girls and students no longer have access to modern education, in Portugal "we are lucky to go to school every day" to "continue our studies", underlines the young woman with brown hair pulled back.
Ramiz, the rubab player, is also grateful to be able to pursue his passion, but his gaze darkens when he recalls his family back home.
"I talk to my mother every day! She needs to hear my voice every night before she goes to sleep," says the young man, whose father and two brothers are also musicians.
Shogufa says she is "very worried" for her parents, as well as for her six brothers and sisters living in a small village and whose daily life boils down to "staying at home (...) without plans for the future".
However, "being a refugee abroad is very difficult", continues the percussionist, who arrived in Braga after spending more than seven months in a former military hospital in Lisbon, a stay under the sign of precariousness.
"My big dream is to return to Afghanistan one day," she says, saying she is convinced "that things will work out (...) and that the Taliban will not stay in power forever."
03/14/2023 13:17:15 - Braga (Portugal) (AFP) - © 2023 AFP