Beyond Skin – Campaign to bring Afghan Girls Guitar Group to Northern Ireland

15 August 2021 Kabul fell to the Taliban resulting on an immediate ban on music and creative expression.

8 November 2021, Belfast became a UNESCO City of Music celebrating the city’s rich musical heritage and recognising the importance of music to its future.

Northern Ireland has a strong connection through music with Afghanistan due to the roots of a shared project with young female musicians in Armagh, Cookstown and Belfast and members of the Afghan Women’s Orchestra. Managed by Beyond Skin and Afghan National Institute of Music, the music videos collaboration project was recognised as a UK project of the year by the National Lottery, one of the funders. Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD Foundation, Arts Council Northern Ireland and Factor Law also project sponsors.

After many harrowing failed attempts Afghan Women’s Orchestra got out of Afghanistan.

2021 the world was still in the vice of CoVid and music played a massive role in getting us all through the challenges, as always helping people to still connect and assist their mental health.

In Afghanistan people were even denied this basic human right to listen to, perform and play music.

UNESCO City of Music is a very prestigious status for any city. Music originating in Northern Ireland has never been shy to speak out, our history of conflict influencing many songwriters.

With the City of Music status does come responsibility and standing in solidarity with our Afghan brothers & sisters in the creative community is Belfast’s opportunity to shine its brightest.

The Taliban are ideologically opposed to music. Anyone caught with a musical instrument or playing music are punished; subjected to public humiliation, tortured or killed. Master musicians who carry music heritage passed down from generations are being hunted.

Although the British Government reneged on their promises, some Afghan people have found their way to Northern Ireland and trying to rebuild their lives. In December 2022 Alghochak (Afghan Association Northern Ireland) was set up, the first Afghan organisation in history to appoint a young Afghan woman (also a poet) as the chair/director. The launch took place at Stormont with special guest musicians Saphwat Simbab (rabab) and Junaid Ali (table) performing with video messages from Women musicians/artists in Afghanistan and the diaspora.

Along with International Campaign For Afghan Musicians (ICFAM), Beyond Skin, Alghochak and many creative organisations, businesses and musicians a momentum has gathered to encourage Belfast City Council and stakeholders to make all efforts to celebrate and preserve Afghan culture within the City of Music strategic programming. From the grassroots solo Musicians and bands have already been dedicating songs on the setlist to the Afghan people and/or inviting people from Afghanistan on stage to read a poem, play music or say a few words. Belfast as an adoptive city and Northern Ireland cradling Afghanistan’s music heritage.

Recently a campaign to relocate an Afghan Girls Guitar group to Northern Ireland was launched.

The Miraculous Love Kids/Girl With a Guitar is a non profit formed in 2016 by Musician Lanny Cordola and from 2016 until the Taliban takeover 2021 was based in Kabul where Cordola taught the guitar to war torn/poverty stricken girls-last year he was able to evacuate the core group to Pakistan where they are now as he works to relocate them to a place where they can have a better future become citizens and contribute to the betterment of their new home. They have had the great fortune to collaborate with many renowned artists like Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, members of The Bangles, The Go-Go’s, Foo Fighters, Sammy Hagar (Van Halen). Currently they are preparing their next release with Blake Shelton along with members of The Eagles and Guns ‘N’ Roses as they await news about their possible new home, Belfast.

Our small land mass, creative and community infrastructure make Northern Ireland the best place to resettle a large music group. Musicians Artists at Risk Resettlement Scheme (MARRS) has also galvanised much of the creative sector as many reach out to help those seeking sanctuary.

MLK and music industry professionals who are supporting and collaborating, for MLK to be resettled and connected with Belfast would be of great cultural capital significance to our music & arts sector.

The campaign calls on the UK Home Office and Northern Ireland Executive to take measures to safely bring MLK and families to Northern Ireland to be included in Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.