LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Renowned American cellist Yo-Yo Ma joined refugees from the National Institute of Music of Afghanistan in Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, on Tuesday for a performance of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik.
Ma joined young Afghan and Portuguese musicians on a small stage at the National Conservatory, where refugees who arrived last December study.
“The best defense against anything is culture,” Ma told the Lisbon audience of dozens in a speech.
“They risked their lives for something they believed in and you in Lisbon opened your hearts and risked…all kinds of things to do what is human,” he said.
Portugal granted asylum to a group of 273 people, including some 150 students, from the National Institute of Music of Afghanistan as they fled Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover last August . Ma was instrumental in helping them get out of Afghanistan.
The Taliban took power when the United States and NATO ended their 20-year military presence.
Afghanistan has a strong musical tradition and a pop music scene has flourished there over the past two decades. But many musicians feared for their future under the Taliban, which rules under a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
“The process of integrating our community is going very well here,” said Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, founder and director of the National Institute of Music of Afghanistan.
“The students are back in school, they’re going to the Conservatoire, they’re making music, they’ve joined several ensembles and orchestras, they’re slowly starting to have a wonderful musical impact on their community,” he said. at the Associated Press. outside of the performance.
Ma and Sarmast exchanged high-fives with the students, some of whom also played traditional instruments from Afghanistan, after the Mozart recital.
Marzia Anwari, a teenage musician from the National Institute of Music of Afghanistan, said Ma was approachable and made her feel comfortable.
“He’s very, very nice,” she said. “I’m so happy right now.”
The plan is to recreate the institute in Portugal, allowing students to continue their studies, as part of a larger Lisbon-based center for Afghan culture that will host exiles.
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