We take a close look at RocKabul, the documentary about Afghanistan’s first metal band

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We take a close look at RocKabul, the documentary about Afghanistan’s first metal band

Our resident metaller Chris McEwin watched RocKabul over the weekend. Here’s what he had to say:

How many bands from Afghanistan can you name? None? No, I didn’t think so. And honestly, neither could I. Until now that is.

RocKabul is a documentary that takes us on a journey from the inception of the first ever Afghan heavy metal band called ‘District Unknown’. They are described as a progressive metal band in the film, and we get to see their timeline and growth from the days when they were a mere twinkle in the eye of a few friends with an unlikely dream, right up through the trials and tribulations most bands would not ever have to endure, and onto the international stage via an invitation to play at India’s SAARC Festival in New Delhi in 2012 which was covered by Rolling Stone magazine.

The story starts out with the group holding up a very humble beginning, barely knowing how to perform as a collective unit. One particular moment of note is the moment they realise after being told by filmmaker Travis Beard that they actually have to tune their instruments, even when practicing, because they thought this was only done for live shows. Literally dodging the threat of suicide bombings on a regular basis, dealing with the cultural issues stemming from the rejection of heavy metal music in their Muslim beliefs, and facing constant threats from local community members about their betrayal of Allah through their music which is directly against their cultural teachings, District Unknown really do have a tale to tell that only the rarest of circumstances would allow.

Filmmaker Travis Beard takes us on an arm in arm journey alongside the band from day dot. Through the hardships of becoming a direct target of the Taliban due their rising popularity forces them to take more drastic measures to protect their individual identities, to seeing them endure the realities of living and operating as a band under third world conditions, such as electricity shortages and outages, limited resources, and literally no peer support. When the threat becomes too real, their lead singer Lemar decides to leave his position and move to Turkey to marry and start a new life. This leads to them working with Travis toward recruiting a new member Yosuf, who injects a new life into their dream. We see the band go through ups and downs and the film ends with the relocation of all members to other countries to start new lives under refugee status, and support their own families in a better world.

This documentary gives a real-life account of how lucky we are in the western world to be able to simply pick up and express ourselves creatively in almost any format or narrative we choose. RocKabul is a candid and at times frightening account of the risk these young men put on their own lives, as well as the lives of those who chose to support them and walk the path alongside them, at the same time as showing if you stick you your guns and follow your dreams you can achieve more than you ever thought possible.


Victorians will be lucky enough to see Rockabul for a bunch of special Q and A screening with Travis in Melbourne (Lido Hawthorn) on May 19, Geelong (Pivotonian) on May 22, and Castlemaine (Theatre Royal) on June 16.

To celebrate the film coming to Geelong, we’re giving away a couple of tickets to the Q&A screening. To enter, simple email your name, number and code word ‘Rockabul’ to [email protected].

Otherwise, pick up your tickets via potentialfilms.com/contemporary-movies/rockabul/.