Late on a Thursday night in a faraway corner of Old Kabul, a community of musicians and worshippers gathers for an evening of solemn prayer, ecstatic singing, and melodies from days long forgotten.
In a small shrine rebuilt after having been destroyed during one of the worst periods in Afghanistan’s tumultuous history, fires have been lit, milky tea is served, and hashish is being passed around. This shrine, called Charda Masoom (Persian for “the Fourteen Infallibles”), lies at the end of a muddy street with open gutters, lined with houses with cracked paint and tiny shops selling trinkets and household goods. On the surface, this congested alley looks like any other in this part of the city.
But what an outsider would not know is that for several hundred years, this street — known as Kucheh Kharabat, “the alley of desolation,” the word originally referring to taverns where people came to drink, dance, and listen to music — has been home to a vibrant artistic community of musicians, who now find themselves with their backs against a wall. Space for them in Afghan society continues to shrink.
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