Female conductor breaks down barriers in Afghanistan

A 17 year-old conductor makes history in Kabul   


Negin Khpolwak, a student at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, has raised the baton to become Afghanistan’s first female conductor. In a country where the Taliban once banned music, the female students have made history by performing their first concert with Khpolwak conducting.


The Afghanistan National Institute of Music was established in June 2010, with music teachers employed from Afghanistan as well as the US, Australia, Russia and India. It currently has 200 students, including a quarter who are girls. The Institute’s founder and director Dr Ahmad Naser Sarmast has contended with violent opposition, including a suicide bomb attack in December 2014 in which he was injured. ‘We are standing against violence and terror with our arts and culture, particularly with music,’ he says.

Negin Khpolwak’s family come from the Kunar province, an area that has a strong Taliban influence. She came to Kabul in order to get an education and successfully auditioned to study at the Institute. ‘Girls in Kunar don’t go to school and many are not allowed to study music,’ she says. ‘I had to go to Kabul to fulfil my dream.’


The concert took place in Kabul where Khpolwak studies conducting and piano. She travelled to the US in 2013 with the Institute, playing sarod [type of lute] at New York’s Carnegie Hall. ‘I want Afghanistan to be like other countries in the world, where girls can become pianists and conductors,’ she says.