Songs of the Taliban: Continuity of Form and Thought in an Ever-Changing Environment :: Khyber.ORG

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Songs of the Taliban: Continuity of Form and Thought in an Ever-Changing Environment

Mikhail Pelevin, Matthias Weinreich

Iran and the Caucasus, 16 (2012) 45-70

Publishing Date: Saturday, May 19 2012

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Note: This article appears in the latest volume of Iran and Caucasus (16:2012) and is reproduced here for the general interest of our visitors.


The second half of the 1990s saw the emergence of a new, distinctive type of Afghan poetry, the Taliban tarana performed in Pashto by one or more vocalists without instrumental accompaniment and characterised by the melodic modes of local folk music. Over the last fifteen years the tarana chants have gained wide distribution within Afghanistan and Pashto speaking parts of Pakistan, as well as among the Pashtun diaspora. Considering their unambiguous ideological status and their immense popularity within the country of origin they can be regarded as the signature tune of the Afghan insurgency. The present article, which focuses on the literary roots of these songs, attempts to demonstrate that their authors are following century old patterns of Pashto oral and written poetry while adopting traditional material to the needs and the milieu of contemporary Afghan society. The publication is supplemented by a transcription and English translation of five tarana chants.

For reasons of both a historical and cultural nature, poetry can be considered the most popular and illustrious form of literary expression in Pashto. Educated Afghans pride themselves on belonging to a "Nation of Poets" and even the most unsophisticated villager is able to recite Rahman Baba or to relate the words of a popular song. Describing the truly extraordinary position poetry occupies in Pashtun daily life, the great connoisseur of Pashto literature James Darmesteter pointedly observed, that "Wherever three Afghans meet together, there is asong between them"; and everyone who has visited Afghanistan or North-Western Pakistan in recent years knows that this state of affairs has not changed much since.

Spanning almost four centuries of recorded history, Pashto poetryhas been cast into many forms and deals with a considerable variety ofsubjects. Contemporary types of lyrical expression include a sizablenumber of poems articulating the feelings and opinions of authors whoadhere to the tenets of the Taliban Movement.

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