Rock School Kabul: Leaving Afghanistan

OPB | Dec. 11, 2013 8:07 a.m. | Updated: April 6, 2014 12:34 p.m.

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Portland musician Michael Lewis was in Kabul, Afghanistan this fall, teaching music at Rock School Kabul. The school is one of several projects run by Sound Studies Projects, a Kabul-based non-profit, which also runs a performance venue, recording studio and art and cultural center. Along with fellow Portlander Michael Herrman, Lewis taught guitar, voice and songwriting to youth and adults, recorded music with local artists in Kabul, and worked to put on a concert, called “Vote for Peace.”  Here’s his final post for opbmusic:

Portland artist Michael Herrman at Rock School Kabul

Portland artist Michael Herrman at Rock School Kabul

Michael Lewis

My last week has come upon me quickly. Trips of this length are always so. Just when your wide eyes start to calm and you’re finding your legs, it’s time. Time to savor that favorite dish one last time, time to crane your head in hope of seeing the faces of new friends before you go, time to buy that thing you’ve been meaning to pick up from the shop on the corner. Or, in our case, time to record songs and film videos. Nothing better than a pending flight across the globe to kick it into high gear.

Security in the city has certainly stepped up. Road checks and passport/visa confirmations are frequent. It’s understandable, given the recent bombing and the Loya Jerga. Winter begins to set in as temperatures drop below freezing at night and the surrounding mountains are increasingly covered with snow. We minimize movement, hang more at home, sidle up to the bouhari — the small internal charcoal stove used for heating — and we do whatever work we can do in the circumstances.

Rock School Kabul recording

Rock School Kabul recording

Michael Lewis

Portland artist Michael Lewis with Rock School Kabul student

Portland artist Michael Lewis with Rock School Kabul student

Michael Lewis

Robin and Humayun are wrapping up the loose ends on the rescheduled Vote For Peace concert that sadly now occurs after Michael and I have to leave. We record in the chilled and resonating stone basement at the house by candlelight. Or we hole up in The Venue’s studio working with an Afghan rapper to write, record and film a new song as part of an international artist collaboration project Humayun spearheads, called Made In Afghanistan. We also discuss the future, plan additional collaborations, brainstorm new projects, and talk about when we’ll see each other again. The plans are vague, but the commitment is sure.

Rock School Kabul

Rock School Kabul

Michael Lewis

The very first evening I arrived, I remember walking into The Venue with Humayun and sitting down with his friends at a low table to sip on some tea. I was asked if it was my first time in Afghanistan. Before I could finish nodding my head, Humayun pipes up, “No one ever comes to Afghanistan just once. You’ll be back. You’ll see.”

I remember being skeptical, quietly, in my head. But after being here, seeing the work being done, the impact it is making…well…I guess he was right, because honestly I can’t imagine what would keep me from returning, and soon…

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis is the lead guitarist for Portland band Blue Skies for Black Hearts.

Read all the posts in the series here.

You can also hear Lewis on OPB’s new arts show, State of Wonder, talking with April Baer about his experiences. Stream the whole program here.

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