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Young musicians seek to show new Afghan face with US tour

Afghan students from the country's first music institute are touring the US this month.

In a vivid sign of Afghanistan's transformation, 48 students from the country's first music institute are touring the US to showcase a unique blend of restored traditional music and Western classics.

When Milad Yousufi was a child, the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan and banned music as sinful. He took up piano five years ago and recently placed third at an international competition in Germany.

"Music is the only thing we can bring peace by," said the 18-year-old. "The media only broadcast war, and that is the image of Afghanistan. If we make music, the idea will change."

The Afghanistan National Institute of Music, which was founded in 2010, instructs 144 students, each of whom earned their spots through auditions. They study not only music but also English and other courses, from the Quran to computers.

The students will perform at the Kennedy Centre in Washington today, and, on February 12, at New York's Carnegie Hall. One musical selection will be a version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, adapted with Afghan instrumentation.

"That's the way we say to the international community that we are part of you, we want to be part of you. We can speak the same language, the language of music," said Ahmad Sarmast, the founder and director of the school.

The students, with boys and girls intermingled, started their tour with a recital at the US State Department, where they sat on the floor performing with Afghan instruments. In a surprise, the new US Secretary of State John Kerry took a seat to listen. During his tenure, the US is expected to withdraw the last of its combat troops from Afghanistan next year.

Calling music "the international language of peace and of possibilities and dreams", Kerry said he had "very, very high hopes for your country that you can find peace and stability". AFP

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