Ariana Delawari Talks The Musical Renaissance In Afghanistan And Her Long Awaited Album: BUST Interview

by Katherine Barner


She’s a musician. She’s a filmmaker. Perhaps most importantly, she’s an activist. Ariana Delawari truly does it all, and she does it with a smile and a purpose. Born in the United States of Afghani decent, Delawari’s greatest love in love is Afghanistan. Her first album Lion of Panjshir was created with classic Afghani sounds and released in 2009. Entelechy I & II is her long-awaited sophomore album, with two parts: the second part of the double album consists of songs from the first part, redone with renowned tabla player Salar Nader, giving the album both an introspective electronic, and a slowed down, personal sound. Along with the album, Delawari created a beautiful film companion piece. Entelechy tells the many stories of love, both romantic and not, and takes a step into Delawari’s incredible mind, with an influence of her journey.

For this album, did you get inspirations for your songs from real experiences or influence or your surroundings?

My last album was all about Afghanistan and it was pretty personal and about these journeys I had been on. When you go into places like refugee camps, your family and friends are subject to suicide bombings and I even lost a few friends at that time. I thought that that experience would make me tougher and more hardened, but it actually really opened my up a lot and caused me to feel more open, more sensitive, more vulnerable to just how fragile life is and how lucky we are. Anywhere I would go after that, anywhere I would travel to or get invited to just because of my art or activism, had a new sense of wonder and appreciation that I could never have experienced without what I went through. Being born (in America), between these two lands, and spending a lot of time there, that’s still the luxury of having been born here. We get changed. We get our hearts opened, and for me, Afghanistan kind of went into my deepest wounds or my deepest sense of self, or any ideas I had of the world, it went in there and expanded. I felt like a lot of the themes on this album were about love and hope, and that really was resonating from where I went. Like the song “The Warrior” is still about that fighter and that struggle of overcoming or the song “African Lightning Fire,” I wrote about child soldiers in Uganda. Those are kind of heavier themed songs from the album, but for the most part, it’s mostly about love and mostly about hope.

Would you say this album is more introspective on what’s going on in your own mind?

I would say it’s kind of a combination. It’s going within and connecting in my world. I feel like it became more transcendent or more universally themed than my last one.

ariana 1

Can you tell me about the recording process for the album?

Basically after the last one, when I made Lion of Panjshir, there were sounds and ideas that are specific to what I imagined for Afghanistan and for those songs. When I came out of that, I just wanted to experiment and kind of go wild. When the first album was completed, I was about to put it out and I started having visions of a film and I had been traveling a lot. My last album and my last film were getting me invited to all these different countries. I was going to places like Somalia and Kenya and Brazil and India and Afghanistan. I was seeing the deterioration of the planet. I was seeing globalization, I was seeing what was happening from global warming, I was seeing climate change. I was in Africa and with my own eyes seeing how lions are unofficially going extinct. Whether it was a protest or we were hanging out at this mall in Kenya and two months after that mall was attacked by Al -Shabaab. I came back and I started to see this vision of a film and I decided to write it and in the course of writing it, I reunited with my friend Salar Nader amd I was telling him, I made this album and I’m about to make this film and I had this vision of having some of my friends do a live recording session of it just for fun and when we were talking about it, he was like, well what if you and I do a duet album? The two of us, no other instruments, and we interpret what you already stated. It was a very organic process where it ended up being the whole album. Also, with my last work, making art about Afghanistan, there’s so much responsibility. It’s my culture, it’s my family, it’s the walk of my life. I came into the position as an activist through it, not even planned, just because I did all this work and became so passionate about it and kept getting asked to perform and speak in Afghanistan and all of a sudden, I had a peace movement. This was something I didn’t even foresee. I have a message still and that means a lot to me and I am always really conscious of what I’m creating in terms of the message. After making art about Afghanistan I had to be so sensitive and careful about, I just wanted to be wild and free. And what I mean by that, for example on the last album, when we finally got to finishing the album, I was much more careful to the sounds being added to that album because the sounds of the instruments were so beautiful that they didn’t need that much more. What we made, it had an historic element to it. That’s what those songs wanted to be and I felt really happy with how that all turned out. Going into this, I wanted to have a really open canvas.

And you gave yourself that artistic freedom, which is important.

Absolutely and being an artist, you have friends  in the business world would are kind of like okay well now you made all this really political art about Afghanistan, why don’t you make something more acceptable? And I’m like I don’t want to try and make anything, I want to make whatever wants to be born. I started this journey of music as not even really planning to be a musician. Being a female artist and doing things so independently, I’ve had a lot of collaborators who I really admire and each person has brought so much to my work, but I was definitely running the ship. I’m not the type of artist that likes to walk into something and be told what to do. I’d rather just go in with an open heart, create something, and let it unfold. As an artist, any of us could complain about how things are run. Or we could just do it our way. Even though it’s more challenging at times, I feel so much better if I’m actually part of the solution, even if it’s in the smallest way or it’s just in my way. Now all of a sudden I have all these young Afghan artists that reach out to me for advice or share their work. I’m inspired by them, they’re inspired by me. It makes me so happy to see that, especially in that region of the world where there’s just a movement of young female artists rising up.

How does it feel to be the first female of Afghan descent to perform rock music live in Afghanistan in over 30 years?

It feels so natural to me because my love for Afghanistan is definitely the deepest feeling of anything in my life. I know that I’ll never feel this kind of feeling pretty much about anywhere else or anyone else. I’d do anything for Afghanistan. When I got called about performing there, I had family and friends tell me that it was a crazy idea. What if there’s a suicide bomber? At the time, I kind of laughed at that. Now I actually realize that was a very real thing. Two years after I performed in this auditorium, that auditorium was bombed by a suicide bomber and destroyed. The risk is so worth it because what we were part of is such a beautiful experience. One of the days I performed at was women’s Day and I looked out in the audience, and there was a group of orphan girls that had never seen live music in their whole life. I was sitting on this stage thinking, wow I’m the first person they’ve ever seen play live music and I’m female. Afterward they came up to me and this cellist that is also female and said we want to play music. It was really powerful because it was so beautiful. These are the little girls that are the subject of my songs. It’s one of those moments where you go, you know, I can explain it to you for a magazine article and state it in this sense of pride but when you’re in the moment, to me it felt like the natural thing to do. If it wasn’t me, it would be anyone. We’re all in it together. That was in 2012. I was in Afghanistan about a month ago and I was blown away are how many bands there are all of a sudden. The year that we performed, collectively staged for a paradigm shift. It felt like a movement. Last trip I noticed how all of a sudden there’s female pop singers and they’re wearing dresses and lipstick and looking glamorous and doing music videos. It’s not my style of music, but it doesn’t matter. It’s total freedom and it’s being accepted. For me to quantify or describe to you the pride of being part of that, it’s such a gift in my life. There’s a long road to go. There’s so much going on that’s also risky and scary but there’s absolutely a massive renaissance movement.

ariana 3

You kind of do it all, it seems. How do you balance your art, as a musician and filmmaker and actress, with your activism? I chose a path that didn’t exist, so bringing all this together in a way that is natural. The music and filmmaking are equally natural and in my heart and connect and activism is my whole life. This is a natural emergence of who I am and what is right for me. Also, if it is hard at times, that’s okay because I chose to do things my way and I chose to not fit in a box. It’s so gratifying to create something that wasn’t there. All these mentors that came into my life, whether it was David Lynch or Jane Goodall, they came into my life cosmically. Both of those people are revolutionaries in what they do and they created work and paths that weren’t there so if the universe wanted to take me on a path that wasn’t there, even when it’s hard, I have to know that (I) chose this. So it is challenging. I’ve gotten way better at balancing it. At the end of the day, it feels so good to creatively be happy with what has been created and also be able to sleep at night because I’m doing my part in a really intense time on the planet.

More from BUST

Talking Riot Grrrl With Sex Stains’ Allison Wolfe: BUST Interview

Sia, Jessica Williams, Leslie Jones Set To Perform At Abortion Rights Event

Ani DiFranco Says, ‘Vote, Dammit!’: BUST Interview

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter


About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.