Students of Afghanistan National Institute of Music make music—and new lives—in Portugal

Posted on: July 14, 2022

“On a sweltering May morning … a series of unfamiliar sounds emanated from the top of a former military hospital in western Lisbon,” writes Javier C. Hernández in Wednesday’s (7/13) New York Times. “The strumming of a sitar, the pounding of tablas, the plucking of a violin—these were coming from the hospital, now the makeshift home of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. More than two dozen of its young musicians had gathered for one of their first rehearsals since arriving as refugees in December. Under the American-backed government in Kabul, the institute, which opened in 2010, had flourished, becoming a symbol of Afghanistan’s changing identity…. While many programs focused exclusively on Afghan culture or Western music, it embraced both, preparing hundreds of young artists, many of them orphans and street hawkers, for careers in the performing arts…. Fearing for their safety, more than 250 students and teachers as well as their relatives, fled Afghanistan and sought shelter abroad … after the American withdrawal, eventually arriving in Portugal, where they were all granted asylum…. In Portugal, the Afghans enjoy newfound freedoms…. But life in Lisbon has also been a challenge…. The students often dream about Afghanistan.” Read about how American orchestras and the classical music community are helping refugee musicians in Symphony magazine.