Aryana Sayeed arrives at a hospital to visit sick children in Kabul. Reuters
KABUL: Each time Aryana Sayeed, one of Afghanistan’s most famous singers, returns to the country of her birth, she braves threats and endures scrutiny right down to her choice of clothes.
Still, she returns often, as much to encourage women in a restrictive country as to share her music, a mix of pop and traditional songs.
“It’s really hard for me as a female singer to carry on with my work in Afghanistan with the type of pressure that I have on my mind, the threats that I get on a regular basis, the attacks on social media,” she said in an interview in Kabul.
“I get messages, scary ones actually.”
Aryana, as she is usually known, had just finished performing last week on Afghan Star, a televised singing competition.
In 2017, Aryana enraged conservative Afghans when she was photographed wearing a self-coloured dress at a Paris concert. Clerics threatened that she would be killed if she returned to perform a scheduled concert in Kabul.
She performed anyway.
“People love to hear her voice. But they don’t love her,” said filmmaker Sadam Wahidi, who is working on a documentary about Aryana, who is often compared to Hollywood reality star Kim Kardashian.
Aryana’s success in Afghanistan and among Afghans living abroad illustrates how much the treatment of women has changed since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban by US-led forces. But the vitriol she draws shows how intractable some attitudes remain.
Born in Kabul, she fled Afghanistan’s civil war at age 8 with her family, stopping in Pakistan, then Switzerland. After the family’s asylum case was rejected, they hired a smuggler to get to London, and settled down.
Aryana, 34, now splits her time between Kabul and Istanbul.
In her home city, Aryana travels by armoured vehicle, but more often she lives in isolation.
“I’m basically a prisoner in my own room,” she said. “All I do is go to my room and back to the set and record the show.”
Women have gained the right to work and girls can attend school since the Taliban government fell. It is a stark contrast to life under the hardliners, when women were banned even from appearing in public without a male relative or with faces uncovered. Playing musical instruments was also forbidden.