An American Rock Musician Teaches Guitar To Kabul's Street Kids
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
In Kabul, Afghanistan, a former arena rocker is teaching music to street kids - namely to teenage girls. Here's NPR's Peter Breslow.
PETER BRESLOW, BYLINE: In the garden of a guest house in Kabul, just beyond the armed guard at the iron gate, a couple of girls are tuning up for today's practice on some donated guitars. All head scarves and concentration, they stretch tentative fingers along the strings. This is The Miraculous Love Kids music school.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR TUNING)
BRESLOW: Overseeing the session is 56-year-old guitar player and school founder Lanny Cordola from Los Angeles. He's got his own head covering - a green do-rag holding in check a graying ponytail that drifts to the middle of his back. Cordola has worked with members of Guns N' Roses and the Beach Boys, but that life gave way to something else when he was performing with musicians in Pakistan.
LANNY CORDOLA: So I traveled over there till 2014, and then I had read an article about these two sisters that were killed in an attack.
BRESLOW: Parwana and Khorshid were selling trinkets on the street in Kabul with their younger sister Mursal. One day, the older girls went in one direction and Mursal headed a different way. Then a suicide bomber struck. Touched by the story, Cordola started traveling to Kabul to meet with Mursal and her family.
CORDOLA: I had no idea it was going to turn into this thing that we're doing now. And when I brought a guitar on one of the visits, she wanted to learn. And so I just kept coming back, and eventually, they started bringing more friends, and then we would drive around, and we'd see all these girls on the streets and we'd...
BRESLOW: This being Afghanistan, our conversation is interrupted by helicopters screaming to the airport where incoming missiles have exploded, and so we move indoors for some quiet. Mursal, who uses just one name, settles into a couch with an acoustic guitar perched on her lap - a star pupil who is polishing her English.
MURSAL: Me, 11 - 11, 13 (laughter) - no, me 13.
BRESLOW: Dressed in a scarlet headscarf, pink shirt and denim vest with a broad, dimply grin, Mursal positively sparkles. Her answers to my questions come quickly and with confidence. Which does she prefer, Afghan music or rock?
MURSAL: No, me like rock music (laughter).
BRESLOW: Does she like performing for an audience?
MURSAL: Yes, of course, me like it.
BRESLOW: And she says she wants to share what she's learned.
MURSAL: My wish is - big wish is - I want teacher best in the world (laughter).
BRESLOW: You want to teach...
BRESLOW: To other girls.
BRESLOW: Mursal and her bandmates now have a repertoire of around 20 songs, but one tune by Sting is an obvious fave.
MURSAL: "Fragile" by Sting from England - one, two, one, two, three, four.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR MUSIC)
BRESLOW: Clearly, stadium shows are down the road a bit, but the six girls, out of the larger group of 60 who've shown up for after-school practice today, have performed for the Spanish ambassador, an Afghan brigadier general and some other dignitaries.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing) Blood will flow when flesh and steel are one.
BRESLOW: In a society as sheltered as Afghanistan's, it is highly unusual for young women to be playing rock 'n' roll, especially out in public. But Lanny Cordola says he met with very little resistance from the families, in part because his foundation is paying for schooling for many of these kids. Sixteen-year-old Madina Mohammadi, the other guitar star of the class, had never attended school before teaming up with Miraculous Love Kids. Now, she says, she's learning English and some other things.
MADINA MOHAMMADI: Mr. Lanny tell me something good about life, and guitar teach me a little bit too about life, about feeling.
CORDOLA: What we're trying to do with music is not singing, dancing and fancy stuff. It's like these are songs of compassion and hope and healing because these people have suffered a lot here.
BRESLOW: Next up for Lanny Cordola's guitar girls - learning bar chords, composing some original tunes and working with a couple of marquee musicians. Through Cordola, the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson has taken an interest in the group and has invited Mursal to visit him in the U.S. So far, though, her visa has been denied, and Wilson has sent over voice and music tracks for his song "Love & Mercy." It's now part of the girls' first ever professional collaboration.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE AND MERCY")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing) Show love and mercy to you and your friends tonight.
BRESLOW: Peter Breslow, NPR News, Kabul.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE AND MERCY")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) I was standing in muddy field watching the people there...
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