Review: Danger Music by Eddie Ayres, Allen and Unwin

James Arbuthnott

Ayres teaches us the transcendental power of music, Afghanistan’s fighting spirit and the peaks and valleys of the Middle East.
Review: Danger Music by Eddie Ayres, Allen and Unwin

Danger Music by Eddie Ayres.

Armed with a violin and a bicycle, Eddie Ayres rode from England to Hong Kong. Over the course of a year, he cycled across Europe, Pakistan, Iran and China – his journal published by Harper Collins in 2014. But while Cadence became a national bestseller, the mind of this well-travelled musician, broadcaster, writer and teacher became colonised by depression.

‘Who wants to hang out with a depressed person?’ said Ayres in his new book, Danger Music. ‘I floated outside the world, detached. Eventually it was just melancholy and me, hanging out at home, drinking for two… That was it. I had reached a dead end.’

In Danger Music, Ayres leaves his decade-long career as a much-loved presenter for ABC Classic FM and accepts a two-year position at the celebrated Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) in Kabul. There, he teaches children the cello, viola and the double bass, and decides to medically transition from a woman into a man at the age of 49.

The heart of Afghan culture was confiscated by the Taliban when they prohibited singing, music and musical instruments in the 1990s. Afghanistan had been invaded and held under military and political rule by the Soviets for a decade until 1989, then held under Taliban rule until 1996, then invaded by the US in George W Bush’s operation “Enduring Freedom”, months after the September 11 attacks.

But Danger Music isn’t your usual story about Afghanistan. While it does give accounts of suicide bombers, guns and fighting, Ayres adopts a non-violent method of resistance by teaching the next generation of young Afghan musicians. In a country and situation usually reserved for journalists following politicians, radicals, war and casualties, Ayres shows us that abuse doesn’t just harm us physically, but spiritually, culturally and musically.

Everyday life in Kabul is difficult for everyone. This is chronicled through stories of students attending ANIM turning from bright-eyed child optimists into adults with lined and stressed faces. Kids with ‘minds of children, hearts of ancients’ reveal themselves when students go missing for days or weeks on end; girls beaten and punished for menial or non-existent failures; a teenager murdering a family foe in the name of honour, only to return to school to continue his guitar lessons.

Danger Music will have you constantly wondering what you would do in the narrator’s position as the sounds of machine guns and bombs penetrate your dreams, the ethics of how you would react to overlooked systemic injustices and whether Afghanistan even needs more western intervention.

Ayres teaches us the transcendental power of music, Afghanistan’s fighting spirit, and gender dysphoria in the most unlikely of places – the peaks and valleys of the Middle East.

4 stars ★★★★

Danger Music
By Eddie Ayres
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 304
RRP: $32.99
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: October 2017

About the author

James Arbuthnott is a Melbourne journalist and book reviewer at ArtsHub Australia. Twitter: @we_forgot