On Aug. 15, the Taliban left a threatening letter on Ahmad Fanoos’ instrument case warning him and his family to stop playing music or else.
“All your family members are busy with these dirty activities,” the letter read. “We are warning you for the last time to leave…”
Under Taliban rule, music was illegal in Afghanistan in the late ’90s. Since then, Fanoos rose to fame playing the harmonium and singing Ghazal or Afghan epic poetry. As a talent judge on the TV show “Afghan Star,” Fanoos became a household name and a target of the Taliban as it retook control of Afghanistan this summer.
“It was very shocking for him,” Elham Fanoos, Ahmad’s 24-year-old son, said of the Taliban letter. “He actually couldn’t really focus on the music anymore.”
A renowned Afghan classical pianist in his own right, Elham moved to the United States to study in 2015 after his music school was bombed.
Desperate to save his father and remaining family members, Elham asked his sponsor, Lesley Rosenthal, COO of the Juilliard School, for help.
“I just racked my brains trying to think how we could help him,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal discovered that Fox had a substantial shareholding in Moby Media Group – the television station that aired “Afghan Star.”
She alerted Fox of the situation and in less than a week Fanoos and five of his family members were evacuated on a plane alongside Fox personnel.
“We asked Fox if they could find some more seats on the plane for the whole family,” Rosenthal said, “and sure enough, they brought the whole family of six out into safety, into freedom.”
Fanoos filmed the heart-racing escape from Afghanistan and turned it into a music video that pays tribute to religious freedom, tolerance and personal responsibility.
“It was very difficult for us … it was very dangerous,” Fanoos told Fox News. “There was a lot of Taliban at the gate of the airport.”
Fanoos, his daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren were hosted in Qatar for the past two months. They arrived in the U.S. on Oct. 29 and just days before Thanksgiving Ahmad and Elham were together again in New York for the first time since 2016.
“We just really hope to represent Afghanistan and Afghan music,” Elham said. “Afghan music is running in my veins and it’s because of my dad.”
Before leaving Afghanistan, Elham studied at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music founded in 2010.
Elham says that without the U.S. military, music in Afghanistan would have perished.
“Don’t lose hope. You did a lot,” Elham said of American soldiers who served in Afghanistan, some of whom were disheartened by the Taliban takeover. “Without them, I don’t think we would have been here in the United States. I don’t think we would have been musicians.”
Father and son are now on a mission to save Afghan classical music and help the sound evolve with Western influences.
“We’re trying to show that Afghan people can make a positive impact in American society,” Elham said.
The Fanoos family believes as long as Afghan music is alive, so, too, is hope for a better future for the war-torn nation.
“[The music] is very necessary for the Afghan people,” Ahmad said. “It’s my life. My love. The music is my love.”