Singing passionately with hip dance moves, Valy electrifies crowds by shouting how his religion is the language of love. His music infuses Afghan folklore with Western instruments. With a global fan base and music downloaded on YouTube as many times as top international rock stars, such as Egypt’s Amr Diab or Turkey’s Tarkan, this five-foot-five Afghan sensation is the new heartthrob that’s taking up the Persian-speaking world by storm.
Last August, Valy gave the last performance of his tour at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. As in many of the concerts on his global tour, which stretched across four continents (with sold-out gigs in places like Toronto, Hamburg, Dubai, and Sydney), thousands of Angelinos from Afghan, Iranian, and Tajiki heritage jam-packed the concert hall to experience the Valy phenomenon.
A little over a year ago, hardly anyone knew Valy, but ever since the premier of his “Bia Tu” video, which has been replayed repeatedly on satellite TV stations and downloaded millions of times on the Internet, he has become a buzzing household name among Afghans worldwide. Although Valy has dominated the Afghan pop-scene, he’s not their only pop singer.
Post 9/11, Afghanistan experienced a cultural renaissance with a burgeoning class of new singers eager to showcase their music and show the world that they too have talent and can participate in the global cultural industry.
In Kabul, the Afghan capital, one TV show that is spearheading the emergence of an Afghan celebrity culture is Tolo station’s version of American Idol. The reality show Afghan Star is beginning to draw national attention. People watching the live TV show can actively participate by texting in votes for their favorite contestant.
In a war-torn country that is ripping at the seams, Afghan Star is stirring a social revolution and sending a loud message to the world that the battlefield is slowly shifting to the airwaves. But not everyone in Afghanistan regards Afghan Star as an emblem of nation-building. Many radical clerics have labeled the show “un-Islamic” and call for its immediate end.
Islamic clerics increased their threats when the 20-year old Mariam “Elaha” Sorur, the Asiatic beauty with high cheekbones, became the second woman to make it to the final rounds of Afghan Star. Since her appearance on the show last January, Sorur has received numerous death threats. Despite opposition, though, Sorur continues to push the envelope and work hard to launch her dream of becoming Afghanistan’s diva.
What’s most troubling is that while Afghans struggle each day to build a professional career and brand their talents for national consumptions, they fear daily the re-insurgence of the Taliban and their re-alliance with powerful warlords. Though Afghanistan has more pressing issues, allowing artists to shape the cultural and historical experience will let Afghans in general to thrive and help this Internet generation to become part of global society.
The ranks of Valy, Elaha, and other Afghan celebrities have charmed the urbane, Westernized fan base that has begun to emerge in Afghanistan ever since the 2001 fall of the Taliban. Next time we decide to give up on Afghanistan, we should make sure that the plugs aren’t pulled by the same anti-modernity forces that once outlawed music and television. Afghanistan’s pop-culture is defying the labels of the country as a “lost cause” that is not worth the fight. Giving up on Afghanistan and allowing the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to reemerge into the vacuum and silence the blooming language of love simply isn’t an acceptable option.