When you hear the word ‘Afghanistan,’ you probably don’t think of a vibrant and important music tradition. But if world travel has taught me anything, it is to look beyond our TV-news-enforced myopic view of the world, get beyond the headlines, and find out what’s underneath. Unsurprisingly, what we often find on the ground in countries like Afghanistan is very, very different from what we find on the nightly news.

Today’s episode of Travels in Music is about looking beyond the headlines, and exploring the music of Afghanistan with an ideal tour guide.

© 2011 Liliane De Toledo
© 2011 Liliane De Toledo

Professor John Baily is an ethnomusicologist, musician, award-winning filmmaker, and one of the world’s leading experts on the regional music of Afghanistan. His perspective and research is informed by over fifty years of travel to the country; he first visited Afghanistan back in 1965.

In today’s episode of Travels in Music, Professor Baily shares stories about what it was like traveling through Asia in the 1960’s, and living in Afghanistan and encountering the Western backpackers lining the Hippie Trail in the 70’s. He helped me to understand what he finds so compelling about Afghanistan, its people, and its music.

More than anything else, I wanted to know: what is it like studying a music culture devastated by war and extremism? What is the state of the traditional music of Afghanistan today, fifteen years since the US invasion? Are things getting better for musicians, in a country under the constant threat of the Taliban, an organization that forbids most types of music? In a country with an unimaginably tragic recent history, is there reason for hope in Afghanistan?

I learned a lot speaking with my guest today, and I think you’ll also enjoy listening to my conversation with Professor John Baily.

Mentioned in this episode:

Learn more about Professor Baily at: