A Pashto singer’s story: From Taliban clutches to London freedom

By Cynthia Chandran,IANS,

London : Named by the BBC website as one of the 10 most famous Britons who have never been heard before, Latif Nangarhari’s is no ordinary story. It involves escaping from the clutches of the Taliban, a journey to Britain and finally being ‘discovered’ in a distant land. And, yes, it is a story of hope.

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Today a British passport holder, he is a singing sensation in his native Afghanistan, a country which has seen more than three decades of war and from where he had to escape.

The Pashto singer hails from Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province. Taliban’s aversion to artists saw him being arrested by them in 2000, when he was singing at a private party.

“Khuda hafiz (god protect), my hands were neither cut nor my tongue slashed. It was my uncle who helped me flee Pakistan. After paying $19,000 to an agent there, I came to the UK,” Nangarhari, a self-taught singer, told IANS.

In 2001, Nangarhari arrived in London as an asylum seeker and worked as a bus driver until early this year.

Nangarhari was working for the TfL, (Transport for London) as a bus driver on the Heathrow airport route, but passion for Pashto music led him to quit his job and concentrate on his singing career.

The move seems to have paid off, as the BBC News Magazine website early this month named him one of the 10 most famous Britons who have never been heard before by readers. Nangarhari was not even aware of his newfound status until he was told about it by IANS.

It was not until last year after the release of his first music album, “Rasha Gule Rasha”, that Nangarhari became the darling of Afghanis the world over.

“Most of my songs contain the message of peace and reconciliation for my war torn country, Afghanistan. I ask the terrorists to stop making bombs and pulling the trigger at innocent people, including children,” said the singer, who is back from Dubai after a hugely successful music programme.

By now Nangarhari has already performed in Australia, Europe, East Europe, Scandinavian countries and the Middle East.

His family is still in Afghanistan.

Nangarhari’s wife, Ghulali, gives free tuitions to local children in Afghanistan, where education is still a luxury and his five children have still not been able to come to terms with his growing popularity.

“I had to call the Afghan police to rescue me from my fans when I was shopping for the Afghani salwar kameez in a store,” said a blushing Nangarhari.

However, he still moves around freely in London without being noticed.

His latest album was recently recorded in London, which he considers his second home. Since making a new life in London, he has gone back to his country of birth just twice.

He is happy that the radio and television channels in Afghanistan and Afghan channels in London are repeatedly playing his music.

Nangarhari’s music has inspired many Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai, who invited him to the presidential palace a few months ago.

“Now things are getting better under Karzai, who has been successful in maintaining a balance among all the communities in Afghanistan,” said the singer.

But he is not fully happy with the government as he laments that his country lacks infrastructure, even though Western countries have given millions to re-build it.

“I fear for my family’s safety there because children are still being kidnapped by the Taliban,” said Nangarhari.

Nangarhari, who is currently working on his third music album, regularly performs for the Afghan community in London.

“He is the number one singer in the Afghan music industry who has made his mark in a very short time. He has a great voice and lyrics and his compositions are also good,” said Shakeeb Karkar, an Afghan mini-cab driver in London.