Aryana Sayeed, one of Afghanistan’s most-popular -- and controversial -- pop stars, says she is unbowed and plans to go ahead with a charity concert despite objections and threats from conservatives over women singing in public.
Once criticized for wearing a flesh-colored dress, Sayeed told RFE/RL in an interview on August 17 that the concert, to be held at a yet-to-be disclosed location in Kabul, will proceed, regardless of the consequences.
“I'm going to still go ahead with my performance, and I'm going to try to give a smile to my fellow Afghans, and give them a good time, and try to change their mind, and take their tension away for at least an hour or two,” she said of her August 19 performance to celebrate the country’s Independence Day.
Public performances by women are regarded as inappropriate in the conservative Muslim nation and Sayeed’s liberal views, Western clothes, and statements pushing for the empowerment of women have only deepened the attacks she has endured.
In May, the 32-year-old singer burned a flesh-colored dress she had worn at a concert after her actions came under heavy criticism from religious leaders as being anti-Islamic and taboo in Afghan society.
The concert date is significant for women as it falls on the anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence in 1919 under King Amanullah Khan, who campaigned against polygamy and women wearing the veil.
Sayeed, who sings in Pashto and Dari, was born in Kabul but left when she was 8 years old. She currently resides in London and says the climate around freedom for women in her native country is worsening.
“The situation in Afghanistan has become so bad that right now, this threatening has become so normal. They can just go ahead and threaten anybody over social media. They can threaten them to death. They can say whatever, and nobody is doing anything about it,” she said.
“Hopefully, when this concert is over -- at some point, I want to take this very seriously -- I want to find somebody to talk to, because they need to change the laws and the rules in Afghanistan, and they need to take these things very serious,” she added.
Sayeed’s popularity defies the scorn that authorities have heaped on her.
With about 1.8 million Facebook followers, a recent video she posted on the social-media website received 1.85 million likes. Sayeed is also a judge on Afghanistan's version of the TV talent competition The Voice.
She said her patriotism and desire for unity and peace in Afghanistan had never wavered and that she’ll donate profits from the concert to families displaced by a militant attack earlier this month on the village of Mirza Olang in northern Afghanistan, which killed at least 62 people. Taliban and Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for that attack.
“Obviously, I'm blown away by the amount of support I am getting and I thank God for it every second.... And to those who are protesting against this, I am not even worried about them, because, I mean, they tried their best and look how many people they gathered -- maybe only 40 people or 50. That's nothing. We have a population of 36 million people in Afghanistan and I know that a majority of them are with me,” she said.