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(COURTESY 4TH EDITION EFGA)
Her name means Good News, she is one of Afghanistan’s best known pop singers, and has performed for the Obamas at the White House. But Afghan singer Mozdah Jamalzadah is best known for her weekly TV show challenging taboo subjects like divorce, domestic violence and forced marriages. Described by TIME magazine as “part Oprah, part Hannah Montana.” The Mozhdah Show airs twice a week, and combines music and discussion with a studio audience. It might look fluffy with 26-year-old Mozdah holding court from a pink and yellow sofa, but her real mission is to improve the lot of women and children. “Today, we will be talking about problems in the family,” is her trademark opening line before bringing in psychology professors, marriage experts and actors to role-play scenarios such as a family going through a divorce.
Born in Kabul, Mozhdah was only five when her family fled to Canada. She insists she never wanted to be a singer but thought music the best way to spread her message. Her hit single “Afghan Girl” was recorded in Canada and spread throughout the Afghan diaspora. It was voted best song of the year in Afghanistan in 2010. She describes it as a song for the men of Afghanistan. “It is about all the great female heroes in Afghan history, and I try to remind men that women too can be powerful.” When a new TV station in Kabul contacted her about hosting a music show she jumped at the chance both to go back to her home country and inspire Afghan women. She took a box set of Oprah episodes as a model.
“What we try to do is we try to mildly bring the issues up and mix it up with a song,” she says. Though she is mobbed by autograph hunters, not everyone is a fan. Her Facebook page and YouTube videos are frequently posted with threats. “Someone should put a bullet through her head and stop her from doing this” read one, “she’s a disgrace to our nation.” Mozhdah says that some in the Afghan government are annoyed by her subject matter and tightly-clad clothing. They once stopped one of her shows from airing after she appeared without a headscarf. But Mozhdah will not be intimidated. She believes she is already seeing results. In the beginning no one in the audience dared ask a question. Now so many raise their hands she doesn’t have time to get to them all.