Music Updates

How Afghan Band Member Metal Sam Fled the Country After Taliban Takeover

For 20 years, Afghanistan musicians — from classical orchestras to death-metal shriekers — methodically built a music scene out of donated or imported instruments, a few radio stations and some DIY recording studios.

Then the Taliban regained control in August, and the religious regime indicated it would crack down on artists playing secular music. Musicians went into hiding waiting to flee the country, as dozens of artists and teachers with the National Institute of Afghanistan Music did earlier this month.

One of those who fled was Metal Sam, 20, who plays guitar for Afghan metal band Rig Veda. Sam (real name Mohammad Samim Noorzai) and his family of nine arrived in Qatar on Oct. 3 by plane from Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport. He agreed to a phone interview with Billboard; see the conversation below.

Where are you?

I’m in a U.S. military base in Qatar. It’s an air base.

How were you able to get on a plane out of Afghanistan?

We have some connection from my brother, a former diplomat in the ministry of foreign affairs in Afghanistan. He had a friend there from the U.S., and it was really a long shot. There were 380 people from plane two. Plane one left a little bit before, but ours was a little bit delayed because of some bureaucratic problems. The Taliban would not allow people with their [Afghanistan] IDs, only people with passports. We had to wait for the rest of our family members to get in.

How long did you wait for the flight?

We were together for an entire month. It was in a hotel. It was like a prison. The waiting was very long and very boring. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We were waiting for an uncertain future. The day we went to the airport, we were there in the morning around nine or 10, and we waited until the evening. At the last moment, it was approved.

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Are you free to move around now in Qatar?

No, but we will be in the U.S. soon after the vaccination ends. We already vaccinated for chicken pox. We are waiting for our Covid vaccination later. Two more weeks, I guess.

What about the rest of Rig Veda?

One of our members is still down there. We are looking to get him out as well. But two of us, me and my brother, Mohammad Safa Sina — he’s 27 or maybe 28 — are here now. We’re planning to regroup and continue our music. And we may make a documentary about this evacuation.

What happened to your band instruments in Afghanistan?

I destroyed them… just threw them away, out of the window… [including] my first-ever guitar, the one that I loved so much.

On WhatsApp, your profile shows the Slayer logo. When did you discover them?

Maybe [age] 13 or 14. I found them through YouTube. In 2019, my brother asked, ‘Hey, why don’t we start our own band?’ and I replied, ‘Yeah, why not?’ We started looking for instruments, and you can’t find quality instruments in Afghanistan. So we brought them from India. We had to wait for an entire year.

Anything you’d like to add?

There are still people in Afghanistan looking for evacuations. We appreciate all the hard work that these people have done, the organizers, the U.S. government. And we can’t wait to rock in America.

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