The collaboration comes after the Ministry of Education in Afghanistan banned girls of 12 years and older from singing in public
A teenage musician from Co Tyrone has teamed up with the Afghan Women’s Orchestra to star in a music video aimed at peacebuilding and supporting women’s rights - despite a ban on girls aged 12 and above singing in public arenas there.
Cara Monaghan (16) will perform the song Gham Be Haya with Afghanistan’s first women’s orchestra - also known as Ensemble Zohra - as part of a partnership with local charity Beyond Skin, funded by the Community Relations Council.
Since the song was recorded, the Ministry of Education in Afghanistan has banned girls of 12 years and older from singing in public, prompting the launch of the campaign #IAmMySong to reverse this decision.
Music had been banned in Afghanistan in 1996 by the Taliban, with those found playing or selling it imprisoned and tortured, and many musicians fleeing the country.
Ms Monaghan (16) is a peace ambassador for Beyond Skin, which was founded by Darren Ferguson, whom she met while taking part a Cookstown music and peacebuilding summer scheme.
The teenager wrote her own song ‘What If’, which was later performed by young musicians in Sri Lanka as part of a music project with Beyond Skin.
Beyond Skin founder Mr Ferguson said: “Since we met Cara she has performed in concerts, music videos, film projects and at prestigious events with local and international professional musicians - using music to connect communities and doing events that bring us together with our neighbours around the world. All this, and Cara only turned 16 last October - she is only getting started.”
Cara was diagnosed with a rare heart condition called pulmonary arteriovenous fistula at birth, a condition which can shunt blood flow in the wrong direction around the body.
She underwent a series of lifesaving surgeries in the first months of her life and in P5 underwent major surgery in the Royal Victoria Hospital for pectus excavatum, a hole in the breastbone.
It was at this stage that she developed her passion for music, said her mum Jacinta.
“At that time, when she was in and out of hospital, One Direction was a big thing and Cara was very fond of Niall Horan. She took this notion of wanting an acoustic guitar and we thought she would just play it and it would be a one-night wonder,” she said.
“But she asked for guitar lessons and her studies came on in leaps and bounds. She found her love of music and we discovered that she had a voice. She’s very shy until she gets on stage, but when she gets there, she turns into a different character.”
Cara has now used her musical skills in more and more performances and has been working closely with Mr Ferguson on Beyond Skin projects, including partnerships with groups and musicians in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Colombia, Palestine and Israel. In 2019 Cara was one of three girls in Northern Ireland invited on to a girls’ peace champions programme managed by Natali Márquez Foundation. She said: “It was really nice to meet Darren and he has got me involved with so many things. I’ve really loved it and I loved playing with the orchestra.”
The project with the Afghan Women’s Orchestra has also seen former students from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) teaming up with young female musicians in Northern Ireland in an attempt to develop a more peaceful and intercultural society to confront racism and sectarianism.
The collaboration with the Afghan Women’s Orchestra started in 2016 when Mr Ferguson met Dr Ahmad Sarmast, founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, and invited him to Northern Ireland where he was a guest speaker at the Conversations Festival in Mount Stewart where he also met Cara.
Dr Sarmast was in exile in Australia in 2001 but had begun negotiating the rebuilding of music education with the Afghan government and went on to found ANIM in Kabul in 2010.
Cara was recruited as a Youth4Peace ambassador as part of a global initiative implementing the Youth Peace & Security UN Resolution 2250.
Beyond Skin is leading the initiative in Northern Ireland as a member representative of UNOY (United Network of Young Peacebuilders), a network of youth peacebuilding organisations worldwide recognising young people as a solution rather than what is often the stereotype of youth as a problem.
For more information on the Community Relations Council visit: https://www.community-relations.org.uk/