Thousands of Afghan artists are still trying to flee the Taliban A family of Afghan musicians in the U.S. wants to raise awareness about their plight.

Thousands of Afghan artists are still trying to flee the Taliban

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This weekend, a family of musicians from Afghanistan begins a U.S. concert tour, starting with globalFEST at Lincoln Center in New York.


AHMAD FANOOS: (Singing in non-English language).

KELLY: Ahmad Fanoos and his sons, Elham and Mehran, are hoping to show American audiences a positive side of Afghanistan. They also want to raise awareness about the thousands of artists still trying to flee their homeland almost one year after the Taliban took control of it. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has more.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: It takes a lot of people to help one artist get out of Afghanistan safely. Ahmad Fanoos is a well-known singer there. Before the Taliban took over, he was also a judge on an "American Idol"-style TV show called "Afghan Star." He also performed on the show.


A FANOOS: (Singing in non-English language).

BLAIR: The Taliban has banned music across Afghanistan. At first, Fanoos didn't leave his home. Then he says he received a threatening letter from the Taliban accusing him and his family members of being infidels for making music. His wife and 18-year-old son, Mehran, a violinist, had gone to India. Another son, pianist Elham Fanoos, was in New York. Elham asked an executive at Juilliard if she could help his father.

ELHAM FANOOS: And she really activated her contacts.

BLAIR: She found out that the TV network behind "Afghan Star" was partly owned by Fox.

E FANOOS: So we were able to get in touch with the Fox Corporation, and they were able to evacuate him and my sister with her family with some of the Fox journalists.

BLAIR: Eventually, the elder Fanoos made it to New York. The organization Artistic Freedom Initiative helped him find housing and a job teaching at The New School. Fanoos says he's grateful to all of the people who helped him and his family flee Afghanistan, but he's concerned about the musicians in his band that he left behind.

A FANOOS: (Speaking Dari).

E FANOOS: He knew them for over 20 years. They were like basically brothers. And it's like, now he's apart from them.

BLAIR: So far, Fanoos says none of them have been able to leave Afghanistan.


SANJAY SETHI: The arts are a special profession in Afghanistan. I mean, you are inherently at risk by being an artist.

BLAIR: Sanjay Sethi is an immigration lawyer who works with Artistic Freedom Initiative. Some 3,000 artists in Afghanistan have asked the organization to help them leave the country. Sethi's colleague Ashley Tucker says the stories they're hearing are harrowing.

ASHLEY TUCKER: Beatings or raids on their homes or the instruments being taken or burned - we continue to hear stories from the artists who are still desperately trying to get out.

BLAIR: The Fanoos family wants to show a positive side of Afghan culture.

E FANOOS: We want them to take something meaningful away from watching us and hearing us and listening to us and listening to our music and meeting us.

BLAIR: Their music is a kind of intersection between East and West, blending the Afghan tabla drum and harmonium with piano and violin.


A FANOOS: (Singing in non-English language).

BLAIR: Meantime, Elham and Mehran's mother and Ahmad Fanoos's wife is still trying to leave India. She has never seen the three of them perform together.

E FANOOS: That's one of her dreams, to see all of us on a stage together live and be there. That's going to be something special, and I'm sure she will cry.

BLAIR: For the concert tour, the Fanoos family will perform under the name the Heart Of Afghanistan.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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