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Afghan All-Girl Orchestra Performs Before World Leaders At Davos Summit

Nineteen-year-old Afghan Negina Khpalwak, right, stands alongside Afghan musicologist Ahmad Sarmast as she conducts her musicians during a rehearsal at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music of Kabul.

Afghanistan's first all-girl orchestra performed a concert in front of world leaders at the closing of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 20.

The group of 30 musicians aged 13 to 20, known as Zohra, performed parts of Beethoven's 9th symphony as well as popular Afghan pieces like Watan Jan (meaning dear homeland).

After playing at the Davos summit attended by world leaders and corporate titans, the group will perform in Zurich, Geneva, Berlin, and Weimar in Germany.

Zohra was the idea of a young female student at Afghanistan's only music academy. She approached the school's director Ahmad Naser Sarmast and suggested it.

Starting an all-girl band is not easy in Afghanistan, where conservative religious groups frown upon girls playing music in public. The Taliban banned music when it ruled from 1996 to 2001.

However, Sarmast said he believes in women's rights and helped bring the group he called a "beacon of hope" together.

Sarmast and the musicians have had to endure death threats and other harassment for breaking religious taboos but he credited "positive changes that have accumulated in the last 13 years" under U.S. and NATO occupation for making the breakthrough possible.

Based on reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters