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VOA Documentary on Musicians' Escape from Afghanistan Debuts in Portugal

Farida and Zohra Ahmadi (left) of ANIM, discuss “Symphony of Courage” with VOA's Beth Mendelson (center) at the documentary screening.
Farida and Zohra Ahmadi (left) of ANIM, discuss “Symphony of Courage” with VOA's Beth Mendelson (center) at the documentary screening.

Voice of America’s documentary, “Symphony of Courage,” had its world premiere on October 1 at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal. The documentary recounts the 2021 escape from Afghanistan - and to a new home in Portugal - of the Afghan National Institute of Music and its acclaimed Zohra Orchestra, Afghanistan’s first all-female ensemble, in the wake of the Taliban ban on most music performances in the country ANIM’s first public concert since the evacuation followed the screening.

VOA will air the gala concert, titled “Light and Hope,” in Afghanistan on October 8 (8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. local time), bringing into Afghan homes a concert the Taliban has denied them. In addition, the concert will be available on VOA’s full-time satellite TV channel, Ashna TV (Yahsat Y1A, channel 469), and on its web and social media platforms. Anchored by VOA reporters, Farkhunda Paimani and Munaza Shaheed, the concert will be presented in the two primary languages spoken in Afghanistan, Dari and Pashto. The program will also include a behind the scenes look at the musicians. In addition to Dari and Pashto, VOA will carry news coverage of the concert in Lisbon in many other languages.

The VOA documentary, “Symphony of Courage,” features two girls, cousins Farida and Zohra Ahmadi, ANIM’s last students to escape the Taliban.

“Through their eyes and their experience, we see the struggle of the Afghan people who have temporarily had their music taken from them,” said Acting VOA Director Yolanda López. “The loss of the freedom to create, perform and enjoy music in Kabul mirrors the loss of many other freedoms in Afghanistan under the Taliban, like freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”

López welcomed a distinguished panel at the screening: The institute’s founder and director, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast; ANIM board member Lesley Rosenthal of the Juilliard School and who assisted with ANIM’s evacuation; and the VOA documentary’s executive producer and director, Beth Mendelson. The moderator, composer Luís Tinico, is the director of the Youth Music Festival and Competition in Portugal.

The screening and concert coincided with the festival and International Music Day, an annual observance created by the International Music Council.