AFGHANISTAN: Plastic Words - Kabul Dreams
Updated: Jan 25
Kabul Dreams's raw, edgy and unrefined debut album demonstrates that with defiance, talent can even emerge through the most challenging beginnings
When most people think of Afghanistan, they perhaps think of the images that have been disseminated across Western media outlets over the course of the past few decades, depicting images of hardship, terrorism and war. It is often easy to cast aspersions about the country when this is what is predominantly shown from there. Yet, the nation’s first rock band, Kabul Dreams, through both their music and their remarkable story, act as inspiration for other talented youngsters who wish to break the mould even amid difficult political circumstances. Their first album Plastic Words shows that one’s nationality or backstory does not necessarily predetermine ability, but conversely it can even provide people with a unique energy to prosper and eventually encourage others to follow suit or even be insired by their work.
“It is quite astounding that having grown up as refugees in different countries that speak different languages and have their own unique political problems, the three of them connected with one another in Kabul and were able to make an album in English with such exceptional emotion and energy just five years later.”
In the case of the Plastic Words album the very fact that the trio’s influences can be so blatantly heard is partially what makes their sound so endearing. Listening to the album without knowing their backstory, one might be forgiven to think that the band are almost a knock-off of Nirvana during their hard-rock tracks whilst also sounding like they are trying to imitate Oasis in their songs that lean more toward indie rock. However, their rather cliché influences are perhaps due to the fact that the pool of rock music they would have had access to growing up would have been few and far between. Under Taliban rule the country was subjected to an extreme form of music censorship in which only the Islamic fundamentalist political movement’s approved chants or specific religious songs were permitted. Possession of a cassette with prohibited music could lead to extreme consequences.
Yet, even though, their attitudes towards rock music would prove problematic for the band in later years, in terms of the safety of live performances in Afghanistan itself, the youngsters grew up without easy access to rock music even in the countries they were displaced to. The three young refugees found themselves in Uzbekistan, Iran and Pakistan during the Taliban’s reign, nations that perhaps did not have a considerably more relaxed approach to rock music than Afghanistan. An example of this, reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP), was that Uzbekistan’s state television issued an unequivocal denunciation of rock in 2011 saying that “this satanic music was created by evil forces to bring youth in Western countries to total moral degradation”. Nevertheless, by hook or by crook the three youngsters found their love for rock music in these countries and what is more remarkable is that they eventually found each other when back on home soil.
It is quite astounding that having grown up as refugees in different countries that speak different languages and have their own unique political problems, the three of them connected with one another in Kabul and were able to make an album in English with such exceptional emotion and energy just five years later. In songs such as Plastic Words, Can You Imagine, Grip, Air, Good Morning Freedom, Mirror, and Speed of Love, the band make a genuinely convincing Western indie sound, accentuated by Sulaymon Qardash’s vocals that are reminiscent of Liam Gallagher’s at the start of Live Forever, in which he slightly elongates every vowel he sings. Meanwhile, whilst some of the punkier stuff is not to my taste, such as on the tracks Crack in the Radio, Life is Rubbish Without You, and I Wanna Runaway, I do acknowledge that these tracks do unequivocally rock. In fact, credit where it is due, A Flower After Storm is my favourite song on the album, despite being punkier, harder rock than most of the album - only a fool would fail to admire this unbelievable head-banger that features an such incredible guitar riff.
This album did make me ask myself the question, what would have happened to these guys were they born and raised in California where they are now based? On the one hand, part of me thinks that their raw potential could have been harnessed and they could have had a lot more money and resources pumped into their music, and that perhaps the production of the album would have been more professional and arguably more marketable for a widespread Western audience. By the same token, I think that under these circumstances they could have lost the abundance of energy that courses through their veins and makes them so perfect at performing the type of 'fuck the system' music that they do. It is evident that they have had to work incredibly hard to get to the point they got to in releasing this album in 2013 and that relief can be heard in their musical expression.
Whilst politics in Afghanistan may be the root cause of why they might never have had the equal opportunity in terms of resources and exposure to make it as global superstars as some of their idols had, they are ironically indebted to the political turmoil and censorship that they endured in shaping them into who they are today and inspiring the rawness of the music they produced on their first album. They might even harbour a bittersweet thankfulness towards Afghanistan for the experiences it provided them with, despite the hardships of war. However, what I am sure of is that many young Afghans are going to be thankful for Kabul Dreams for showing them that with talent, will and resistance, anything is possible.