In an empty mudbrick room, a family sits in a circle on the barren floor. A young man dressed in a traditional wedding outfit begins to tune the strings of a red instrument called a japoni. Another man lightly taps a tambourine. Soon the strumming and drumming turn into a song about love and Malalai, Afghanistan’s greatest heroine, akin to Joan of Arc, who lead a battalion of Afghan fighters to victory during a fierce battle against the British in 1880.
The man playing the japoni is Mohammad Iwaz, a red-headed 26-year-old musician. The wooden instrument is from his native Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, with strings and keys resembling those from a typewriter. “It refreshes my heart when I play it, and nothing else makes me happy except this,” Iwaz says.