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Young Afghan Musicians Who Fled To Portugal Perform With Cellist Yo-Yo Ma

U.S. cellist Yo-Yo Ma plays with young Afghan and Portuguese musicians at Portugal's National Conservatory in Lisbon on March 29.

U.S. cellist Yo-Yo Ma joined refugees from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music for a performance in Lisbon, Portugal, where the Afghan musicians have sought asylum.

Ma joined young Afghan and Portuguese musicians for the performance of a Mozart piece on March 29 on a small stage at the National Conservatory.

“The best defense against anything is culture,” Ma told the audience. The young musicians “risked their lives for something they believed in, and you, in Lisbon, opened your hearts and risked...all kinds of things in order to do what is human.”

Portugal granted asylum to a 273-person group from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music as they fled Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover last August.

The group, which includes some 150 students, arrived in December and have been studying at the National Conservatory since then. Ma played a role in helping them get out of Afghanistan.

Ahmad Sarmast, the founder and head of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, said the process of integration was going smoothly.

“The students are enrolled back in the school, they are going to the Conservatory, they are making music, they joined several ensembles and orchestras, they are slowly also beginning to make a wonderful musical impact on their community,” he told the AP news agency on the sidelines of the performance.

Some of the students played traditional Afghan instruments during the performance.

The plan is to recreate the institute in Portugal, allowing the students to continue their education as part of a wider Lisbon-based center for Afghan culture that will welcome exiles.

Based on reporting by AP