Afghanistan's all-female orchestra falls silent

Negin Khpalwak was once the face of Afghanistan's renowned all-female orchestra. She was at home in Kabul when she got word the Taliban had reached the outskirts.

Last time they were in power, they banned music and women weren't allowed to work.

From safety in Virginia, Khpalwak told Reuters of her panic.

"I was under so much stress, I was wearing a sleeveless top inside the house, I grabbed a robe jacket and covered up, thinking just in case, because if they come suddenly and see me like this then straight away they would kill me. I had this small decorative pair of tabla drums, I tried to quickly hide them, I couldn't bring myself to destroy them, so I just hid them. I had a folder where I had printed all my interviews which I'd kept, I burnt that. I had my photographs with musicians and with musical instruments, which I had made a photo album with, I burnt all of that. I felt so awful, it felt like the memory of my whole life was turned into ashes."

Named Zohra after the Persian goddess of music, the orchestra was mainly made up of girls and women from a Kabul orphanage aged between 13 and 20.

Formed in 2014, it became a symbol of the freedom Afghans began to enjoy in the 20 years since the Taliban last ruled.

Though even under the country's Western-backed leaders, Zohra members spoke of hiding their music from their conservative families and facing verbal abuse and threats of beatings.

They played a mix of traditional Afghan music and Western classics with local instruments, and entertained audiences from the Sydney Opera House to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Now armed Taliban stand guard at the shuttered National Institute of Music in Kabul, where Zohra once practised.

Ahmad Sarmast founded the institute. Speaking from Australia, he says a rehearsal was in full swing when the security guards rushed in with news of the takeover.

"And currently some of these students are in their own homes, some of the students went into hiding... We all are heartbroken. No one expected the situation to develop in the direction that the situation developed."

Khpalwak managed a daring escape from Kabul a few days after the Taliban arrived, boarding an evacuation flight alongside some female Afghan journalists.

At 24, she's too young to fully remember life under their previous rule, but arriving in the capital as a young girl to attend school sticks in her memory.

"I remember my first glimpse of Kabul. All I saw was ruins, ruined houses, holes in bullet-ridden walls. That's what I remember. And that's the image that comes to mind now when I hear the name of the Taliban. I think perhaps Afghanistan will be destroyed again, like it was then."

Since returning to power, the Taliban have sought to reassure Afghans and the outside world.

They've said cultural activities, as well as jobs and education for women, will be allowed, within the confines of Muslim sharia law and Afghan Islamic practices.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting