A veil is a veil is a veil. Or is it?

An Afghan girl band puts a fresh spin on the burqa.

Carol Lloyd
November 3, 2006 5:34AM (UTC)

A Broadsheet reader tipped us to a hilarious/fascinating/bizarre YouTube clip of "The Burqa Band," aka the first known girl band in Afghanistan. Begun in 2003, the trio became a cult hit in Europe -- especially in Germany, where the band's single "Burqa Blue" caught the attention of media outlets and climbed to the top of the playlists in dance clubs.

In the context of so much semiotic contortionism over the meaning of the veil, the mystery band offers us a curious glimpse from, well, inside a giant blue burqa. In their video the trio is seen playing in what appears to be a dingy apartment; later, MTV style, they appear doing synchronized dance movements from a mountain overlooking Kabul. At all times they are, of course, completely hidden in their tentlike garments.


Against a raw beat, the vocalist chants a sardonic ditty in choppy schoolgirl English:

"My mother wears a burqa,
my father wears it too.
I have to wear a burqa too,
the burqa it is blue.
When you wear a burqa
you don't know who is who,
if you want to meet your sister,
it can be your uncle too."

Happy subversion! In the song, the veil doesn't so much segregate the genders as render them indistinguishable. At the end of the song, the words even wreck the logic of courtship:

"You give me all your love,
you give me all your kisses and then
you touch my burqa and do not know who is it."

But like so many instances of people reclaiming the weapons of their own oppression -- nouveau feminists embracing the 6-inch pump, for one -- the story of the Burqa Band is a bittersweet one. The burqa not only was their source of inspiration but was a vital necessity to protect the group's members from religious fanatics. For decades under the Taliban, playing and listening to pop music were strictly prohibited, so wearing burqas to play music in Afghanistan isn't just a bit of playful sabotage. And despite all the media attention from the West, the Burqa Band remains shrouded in secrecy and no longer actively plays music. (According to some reports, each woman's identity in Afghanistan is known by only about 10 people.) In one interview the band's drummer, known to the media as "Nargiz," says that though she'd love to be playing, she believes it will take another decade before it's safe to be a female musician in Kabul.

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

MORE FROM Carol Lloyd

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