Love, Loss and Exile (women’s poems from Afghanistan) – for soprano with piano and cello

In five movements, duration 20 mins
Individual movements may be excerpted for performance

We don’t often think of poetry as rebellion, but the women of Afghanistan have built a tradition out of artistic defiance, of speaking in rhyme words they are forbidden in prose. In the Pashtun culture from the mountainous regions near Pakistan, girls and women share, compose and speak landays – an oral tradition of short poems by and for women, passed down for generations from woman to woman and tribe to tribe. The anonymous nature of these poems allows them to speak the unspeakable – to talk frankly of sensual love and desire, of yearning to make choices, of girls wanting to be more than an adjunct to their fathers, brothers and husbands. In a society where young girls are bartered to old men, where to choose where to love is to risk death, where girls are forbidden from education, the landays tell women’s stories in their own words, unfiltered and unchecked by the men’s voices that surround them.

The texts chosen for this song cycle are only the tiniest smattering of a powerful tradition, but were chosen to highlight recurrent themes that appear in landays – love and desire, grief, exile, war, and yearning. While set for classical soprano with western instruments, the music pays homage to the origins of the poetry by calling for each musician to use a variety of timbres, modes and ornamentation that come from this style.

Abigail Sinclair – Soprano, Yu-Hsin Teng – Piano, Evan Kahn – Cello.
Commissioned by Songfest and premiered at San Francisco Conservatory, June 2022.

Perusal score on Issuu:

1. Love
Your love is like water, like fire;
The waves engulf me, the flames consume me.

2. The Stoning Ground

Mother, come to the prison window
Talk to me before they take me to the stoning ground.

3. Grief

If my love dies, let me be his shroud
Together we will wed the dust.

4. Exile

I hold a fading flower in my hand
I don’t know who to give it to in this strange land.

5. Tulip

I’m like a tulip in the desert, I will die before I can open
And the waves of desert wind will scatter my petals.

Score available for purchase here:

Women's poems from Afghanistan, song cycle

More about landays, women’s poetry in Afghanistan and composition of the work here: