David Havea: What was the inspiration for you to work with Multicultural Arts Victoria? Was it to bring the Hazara community together?
Taqi Khan: The main thing is to promote our culture, because from long time ago in Afghanistan, being from our ethnic group, we were not allowed to promote our music or promote our culture or traditions so our language and traditions were eroded. Every Hazara artist who leaves Afghanistan and lives overseas gets a chance to do something for our people because we have been persecuted for such a long time. This program is part of my responsibility as a known member of the Hazara community, it is my duty to do this for my people and bring them together. Especially as Hazara people are always very sad and don’t have good events and get special days so it’s a chance for everyone to get together and celebrate our culture and show support for those who are starting new lives in Australia.
I understand that your family is originally from Afghanistan?
I was born in Jaghuri in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan. My parents were from the Urazgan province, but due to fighting and war they moved to Jaghuri. When the Russian forces came to Afghanistan my parents lives became too difficult in Jaghuri so we were forced to migrate to Pakistan when I was about 3 years old, so I grew up and was educated in Pakistan. So I have no memory of Afghanistan as a child but later in 2004 I visited Afghanistan, mostly in the Kabul province but one night in the Ghanzi province. It was very dangerous at the time and as I travelled by car I saw many places where there was a lot of fighting, it was really scary.
That sounds very scary! Why were you in Afghanistan at such a dangerous time?
Actually, my big brother was missing so my family sent me to go and search in Kabul but nobody had seen anything and we have still lost my brother. After that I went back to Pakistan and then in 2009 I came to Australia.
I’m sorry to hear that about your brother. So you actually spent most of your childhood in Pakistan?
Yes, I grew up in Quetta City. Nowadays the situation is still very bad in Quetta, even just recently, 26 people were killed in a bombing attack. I spent all my time in Quetta and I can’t forget that city but I faced many difficulties as a refugee child there. When I was very young I was working in a coal mine and also in the bizarre in shops and restaurants.
That’s hard work for a kid to be doing, were you not in school at the time?
No I was attending school at the same time! But we needed money so I had to work part time as well. But for a 12 year old, working in a coal mine is hard work! But when I wasn’t in school I had to earn money to pay for my books and my uniform as my parents had a lot of financial problems.
Does the rest of your family still live in Quetta?
My parents and siblings are still there, I didn’t tell them when I decided to come to Australia by boat. I’d asked my father before and he said he didn’t want me to go as it was too dangerous. But it was also too dangerous for me in Quetta as everyday there were target killings and many problems, we couldn’t go to Afghanistan because there was many economical problems in Pakistan. So life was very hard for us. When I came to Australia by boat I was sent to Christmas Island and in 2010 they gave me a visa to come to Melbourne. Then I learnt that during my journey that my father got very sick and had a heart attack after he learnt I had left Pakistan. It was a big wish of mine to go back and see my father again one day but unfortunately I will never see him again.
I imagine that must have been incredibly difficult for you. Growing up in Pakistan, when were you first exposed to music?
I first had private lessons in Quetta, my teacher was a Christian so he would give me lessons in his house.
And what were you taking lessons in at that time?
I can play the the Hazara instrument Dambora but I taught myself to play that. It’s a simple instrument with only two strings but it has an amazing sound. Because of the persecution of the Hazara people we haven’t had as much progression in things like music and this instrument is an example of that.
We were not allowed to go and buy instruments so we had to hide and make them ourselves. We haven’t had as many professional artists and professional musicians, which is proof of how oppression has affected us.
It must have been hard to pursue music in that kind of environment.
At that time the government persecuted us and didn’t allow us to get a musical education. But even in our own community I had people telling me that for me to play music was bad because they had been taught to be fearful of it. There is still people like that in the Hazara community in Australia. This also makes it hard to find female singers as girls aren’t allowed to learn music.
In those circumstances, how did Hazara culture manage to express itself in the arts?
There were many artists of different types but it was hard for people to be professionals, they would just have to do everything themselves. It was a way to share their pain with other people.
Is that what inspired you to pursue music yourself?
When I was very young in school I was singing in some school programs, things like the national anthem, and my teachers would tell me that I had a good voice so I started liking music at that time. And after that, when my music teacher accepted me to study with him I decided that I should work on music seriously and especially on Hazaragi music to give a good message to my people that music is not bad and bring positive changes to their lives. So I sing in different style, sometimes with traditional Hazaragi poems and words with classical Indian style music but I also sing Hazaragi with pop music and hip hop style. It’s a good experience and I like trying different styles.