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First Afghan women's orchestra tries to change attitudes

Afghanistan's first — and only — all-female symphony is trying to change attitudes in a deeply conservative country where many see music as immoral, especially for women.

The symphony's two conductors show how difficult that can be, but also how satisfying success is.

One of them, Negin Khpolwak, was supported by her father when she joined the Afghanistan National Institute of Music and then became part of its girls' orchestra, called Zohra. But the rest of her family was deeply against it. Her uncles cut off ties with her father.

"They told him he is not their brother anymore," said Khpolwak, now 20. "Even my grand-mother disowned my father."

Khwolpak had learned about the music institute at the orphanage in Kabul where she spent most of her life. Her father sent her to the orphanage because he was afraid for her safety in their home province of Kunar in eastern Afghanistan, an area where Taliban militants are active.

The institute is one of the only schools in Afghanistan where girls and boys share classrooms, and it draws its students from the ranks of orphanages and street children, giving them a chance at a new life. Khpolwak studied piano and drums before becoming the orchestra's conductor.

More than 30 girls aged 12 to 20 play in Zohra, which is named after a goddess of music in Persian literature. In January, the orchestra, which performs traditional Afghan and Western Classical music, had its first international tour, appearing at the World Economic Forum in Davos and four other cities in Switzerland and Germany.

"The formation of the orchestra is aimed at sending a positive message to the community, to send a positive message to the girls, to encourage families and girls to join the music scene of the country," said Ahmad Naser Sarmast, the institute's founder and director.

Sarmast has experienced firsthand the militants' hatred of music. In 2014, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up at a concert Sarmast was attending. He was wounded and a German man in the audience died.

The Zohra orchestra was created in 2014 when one of the institute's students, a girl named Meena, asked Sarmast if there could be a group where girls could play together. Sarmast leaped at the idea.

Since then, Meena has disappeared. Last year, the 7th grader told the school she had to attend her sister's wedding in her family's village in eastern Nangarhar province. She never returned, a sign of how tenuous people's situation is in a country where war rages, communications are poor and poverty is rife. Sarmast said the school has not been in contact with her, but he's hopeful she'll return to the school and Zohra.

The orchestra's other conductor, 18-year-old Zarifa Adiba, faced resistance from her family just as Khpolwak did.

When she joined the school in 2014, she only told her mother and step-father, not her four brothers and her uncles, because she knew they would disapprove. Her mother and step-father tried to tell them about the importance of music — without mentioning Adiba — but they weren't convinced.

"If my brothers and uncles had known about me learning or playing music, they 100 percent would have stopped me because they had a very negative view toward music," Adiba said.

Her family's opposition to music was so intense she hesitated to join the orchestra's trip to Davos. But she ended up going, and as one of the conductors she was widely interviewed in the media there and appeared on TV.

When she returned, her uncles were the first to congratulate her. Two of her brothers are still not happy about her involvement with music but now she has the support of the rest of the family, she has more courage, and she said she is sure her brothers will eventually come around.

"I changed my family, now it is time for other girls to change their families because I am sure that slowly all Afghanistan will change," she said.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Q-Tip bro it up at intimate showcase

Longtime friends Leonardo DiCaprio and Q-Tip hung out at an intimate showcase for an Australian band making its New York City debut late Wednesday.

The Oscar-winning actor and Grammy-winning rapper were in the small audience at Ludlow House as trio Chase Atlantic performed songs in a stripped, raw form.

DiCaprio bobbed his head from his plush chair while sitting next to Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model Nina Agdal and chatting with the leader of A Tribe Called Quest.

Q-Tip went to the stage to watch when the band asked people to come closer, as DiCaprio, in a fedora, sat back. The audience included music industry insiders, record label players and some press.

Chase Atlantic performed songs from its three-song project released in January, "Part One," as well as tracks from another three-song album, "Part Two," to be released Friday.

The group's genre-bending sounds echo The Weeknd and The 1975. Band members include brothers Clinton Cave and Mitchel Cave, and Christian Anthony.

Bob Dylan archives open in Oklahoma; public center planned

Part of music icon Bob Dylan's once-secret 6,000-piece archive, including thousands of hours of studio sessions, film reels and caches of unpublished lyrics, has opened in Oklahoma, curators announced this week.

More than 1,000 pieces spanning Dylan's six-decade career are available to scholars at the Gilcrease Museum's Helmerich Center for American Research in Tulsa.

The public will get a glimpse of some of the material when the Bob Dylan Center opens in the city's downtown Brady Arts District in about two years. The center will, fittingly, occupy another part of a building that houses a museum devoted to Oklahoma-born Woody Guthrie, one of Dylan's major influences.

The George Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of Tulsa announced last year that the collection had been acquired from Dylan for an estimated $15 million to $20 million. The foundation also snapped up Guthrie's archives in 2011, paying $3 million. The Woody Guthrie Center opened two years later.

"A couple hundred books have been written about Bob Dylan, maybe equal to or more books than have been written about Abraham Lincoln, but none of the writers have had the access to any of this material," said Stanton Doyle, a senior program officer at the foundation. "I think people will get an insight into Dylan and his creative process that's never been released."

The archive is a goldmine for Dylan fans. There are pages of unrecorded verses — one for a song called "No Particular Length of Time"— lyrics scrawled across hotel stationary; pocket memo books of every shape and color, filled with notes on royalty rates and telephone numbers for notables like Allen Ginsberg and John Lennon. Faxes from former President Jimmy Carter and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and letters from former first lady Michelle Obama, director Martin Scorsese and Bono are also in the trove.

Then there are the audio recordings and film reels — enough so that it would take around 113 days to consecutively listen to and watch all of the available material, estimates curator Michael Chaiken.

"Nobody knew Bob held onto so much stuff," Chaiken said in an interview Wednesday. "The materials we are opening up have never been seen before by the public at large."

Chaiken found himself doing a deep dive on the sessions that would become the album titled "John Wesley Harding."

"To hear the alternate versions to 'All Along the Watchtower,' it was amazing," Chaiken said. "He's like a Miles Davis character when he goes into the studio, there's so much improvisation going on and moving things around, trying to find the rhythm."

When it was announced that the archive was coming to Tulsa last year, it raised a few highbrow eyebrows among those who wondered why it wasn't going to an Ivy League school, for example, or a much larger city like New York or Los Angeles, or even to Minnesota, where the singer is from. Curators explained then that the move was vintage Dylan —zigging when everybody else was zagging.

Dylan did it his way again last year when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, but declined to attend the traditional Nobel Prize banquet in December, citing other commitments.

It was announced Wednesday that he'll accept his diploma and medal this weekend while performing concerts in Stockholm.

The Latest: Court appearance in shooting involving Fetty Wap

The Latest on a shooting in New Jersey involving hip-hop star Fetty Wap (all times local):

3:45 P.M.

A hip-hop promoter arrested after a shooting involving hip-hop star Fetty Wap in his New Jersey hometown has made his initial court appearance on an armed robbery charge.

Passaic (puh-SAY'-ihk) County prosecutors say Raheem Thomas had a handgun and hollow-point bullets when he was arrested on the armed robbery charge so he's also facing weapons charges and a count of receiving stolen property.

Thomas didn't enter a plea during his brief court appearance Wednesday. Defense lawyer Greyson Hannigan says Thomas will enter his plea during a pretrial detention hearing scheduled for next week.

The shooting happened Sunday on a street outside a Paterson deli. Police say Fetty Wap and several friends had become involved in a heated altercation with another group inside the deli. Three people were wounded. Fetty Wap was OK.

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2:25 p.m.

Another man is facing charges after a shooting involving hip-hop star Fetty Wap in his New Jersey hometown.

Passaic County prosecutors say 34-year-old Sylvester Huffin has been charged with two counts of attempted murder and three weapons charges. The Paterson man faces several decades in prison if convicted on all counts.

The shooting happened early Sunday on the street outside a Paterson deli. Police say Fetty Wap and several friends had become involved in a heated altercation with another group inside the deli. Three people were wounded, but Fetty Wap was OK.

It wasn't known Wednesday if Huffin has retained an attorney.

Authorities had announced earlier Wednesday that a hip-hop promoter arrested after the shooting is also facing an armed robbery charge.

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11:05 a.m.

A hip-hop promoter arrested after a shooting involving hip-hop star Fetty Wap in his New Jersey hometown is also facing an armed robbery charge.

Passaic County prosecutors say Raheem Thomas had a handgun and hollow point bullets when he was arrested on the armed robbery charge, so he's also facing weapons charges and a count of receiving stolen property.

Thomas is due to appear in court Wednesday. It's unclear if he's retained an attorney.

The shooting happened early Sunday on the street outside a Paterson deli. Police say Fetty Wap and several friends had become involved in a heated altercation with another group inside the deli. Three people were wounded, but Fetty Wap was OK.

Thomas is also charged with aggravated assault and having a gun after previously being convicted of a felony.

Talent agency Wilhelmina signs rapper Nicki Minaj

The Wilhelmina talent and modeling agency has signed Nicki Minaj to its celebrity division.

The agency said in a statement Wednesday that it will work to further the six-time American Music Award winner's influence in fashion and beauty.

"She is a style pioneer and an icon," Wilhelmina CEO Bill Wackermann said.

Minaj said of Wilhelmina in the statement: "They get me," adding: "I love the synergy between my music and how it inspires my fashion."

Known for bold and often risque looks, the nine-time Grammy nominee is a regular on fashion show front rows around the world. She was filmed just days before the recent London attacks posing in a black-and-silver dress and jeweled headpiece on Westminster Bridge, reportedly for a new video promoting a track she collaborated on with Drake and Lil Wayne.

St. Louis services set for April 9 for rock icon Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry fans will have their chance to pay their respects to the late rock 'n' roll visionary.

Berry's family announced in a statement Wednesday that a public viewing will be held from 8 a.m. to noon April 9 at The Pageant club, where Berry frequently performed in his hometown of St. Louis. That will be followed by a service for Berry's family and friends, including those in the music industry.

The Pageant's owner and longtime Berry friend, Joe Edwards, told The Associated Press that Berry will lie in repose in an open casket, giving fans their last glimpse of the music legend.

Berry was 90 when he died March 18 at his home near St. Louis.

Berry's classics include "Johnny B. Goode," ''Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Roll Over Beethoven."

Family and close friends say goodbye to George Michael

Singer George Michael's publicist says his funeral has been held in London.

The private funeral service took place Wednesday at Highgate Cemetery in north London. Michael's publicity agency, Connie Filippello Publicity, said in a statement it was attended by family and close friends

The family thanked his fans for their "many messages of love and support" and asked for its privacy to be respected.

Karl Marx and authors George Eliot and Douglas Adams are among the famous people buried at Highgate.

A post-mortem investigation found that Michael died of natural causes as the result of heart disease and a fatty liver.

The former Wham! singer was found dead at his country home in Oxfordshire on Dec. 25 at age 53.

The singer had battled health problems and drug addiction.

Allman Brothers Band co-founder's wife arrested in Florida

The wife of an Allman Brothers Band founding member is accused of pointing a rifle at members of a rowing team in Florida.

Sarasota County Sheriff's officials say 62-year-old Donna Betts was charged Tuesday with 18 counts of aggravated assault with a firearm. She's married to guitarist Dickey Betts.

The Herald-Tribune (http://bit.ly/2oaJPEI ) reports a 911 caller said the woman was standing on the dock behind her home Monday, pointing a rifle toward about 100 teens and coaches from the Sarasota Crew rowing team in boats and on a nearby dock.

Arrest records say Donna Betts threatened to shoot them and called 911, saying the rowers have destroyed her life.

She lives next to the team's practice facility.

Betts is being held without bond. An attorney wasn't listed on jail records.

Man faces more charges after shooting involving Fetty Wap

Two more arrests have been made in connection with a shooting involving hip-hop star Fetty Wap in his hometown.

Raheem Thomas, a hip-hop promoter who initially was arrested on aggravated assault and weapons charges after the shooting occurred in Paterson early Sunday, will now also face an armed robbery charge, the Passaic County prosecutor's office said Wednesday.

Thomas had a handgun and hollow-point bullets when he was arrested on the armed robbery charge, authorities said, so he's also facing weapons charges and a count of receiving stolen property. The Paterson resident is CEO and owner of Muscle Team Entertainment, a company that promotes hip-hop.

Prosecutors did not immediately specify who was robbed, what was taken or why Thomas was charged with receiving stolen property.

Thomas did not enter a plea during his brief court appearance Wednesday. His lawyer, Greyson Hannigan, said he will enter his plea during a pretrial detention hearing scheduled for next week.

Another Paterson man, Sylvester Huffin, has been charged with two counts of attempted murder and three weapons charges, prosecutors announced later Wednesday. He faces several decades in prison if convicted on all counts. He was in custody and couldn't be reached for comment, and it was unclear if he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf. A date for his initial court appearance has not been scheduled, prosecutors said.

The shooting happened early Sunday on a street outside a Paterson deli. Police said Fetty Wap, whose real name is Willie Maxwell, and several friends had become involved in a heated altercation with another group inside the deli. Three people were wounded, but Fetty Wap wasn't injured.

A photo posted this weekend to Thomas' Instagram account showed a masked man wearing what appears to be Fetty Wap's signature "1738" pendant.

"Just to set the record straight, I personally didn't take (Fetty Wap's) chain," Thomas posted.

Fetty Wap's crew in New Jersey is known as the Remy Boyz 1738, named for the Remy Martin 1738 brand of cognac.

Thomas in January also posted a rap song and video on YouTube that was disrespectful of Fetty Wap.

ACMs play to a loyal country audience to shore up ratings

As the television industry deals with overall declines in total viewership, organizers behind the Academy of Country Music Awards are focused on keeping the core country music audience coming back each year to watch the genre's biggest stars party in Las Vegas.

The ACM Awards, airing live Sunday on CBS (8 p.m. Eastern), are relying on two likable co-hosts, tried and true stars of the format, cross-genre collaborations, a party vibe and new music to keep fans tuned in.

"The audience that CBS draws to it on a weekly basis is right dead smack in the wheel of country music," said Jack Sussman, the network's executive vice president of special, music and live events. "Our audience is that audience and our job is to grow that above and beyond the core whenever we can."

After decades of hosting the show in Los Angeles, the ACM Awards moved to Las Vegas in 2003 and several days of concerts, pool parties and songwriter showcases lead up to the televised show, which gives it a loose, fun atmosphere that artists enjoy, said R.A. Clark, an executive producer at dick clark productions. "We are the away game," he said. "It feels more like a party than an awards show."

The awards show has had positive ratings swings in recent years. In 2013, the show was watched by 15.5 million people, according to the Nielsen company, outdrawing the rival Country Music Association Awards show held the previous November for the first time. During a special 50th anniversary show in 2015 held at a football stadium in Arlington, Texas, just under 16 million people tuned in and gave the show its best viewership in 17 years.

But viewership took a steep drop last year to 11.2 million when the awards show went up against "The Walking Dead" season finale and the iHeartRadio Music Awards.

Marc Berman, editor-in-chief of the website Programming Insider, said ratings for all television, whether its awards shows or scripted series and even some sports, have been declining. The CMA Awards, the American Music Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards have been losing viewers over the past three years as viewership becomes more fragmented.

But Berman said he has little concern for country music awards shows. "There is a very strong base of country fans, I think, that are just very dedicated to country music," he said. "They are always going to watch."

This year's ACM lineup includes reigning entertainer of the year Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town, Sam Hunt, Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts and Kelsea Ballerini. Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley return as co-hosts.

The announced collaborations stay pretty squarely within the genre, such as the Backstreet Boys performing with Florida Georgia Line on a song that already has a lot of country airplay. Power couple Faith Hill and Tim McGraw will debut "Speak to a Girl" from their forthcoming duets album; Maren Morris and Thomas Rhett will debut "Craving You," a duet from two of the genre's hottest young stars; Reba McEntire will sing a song from her new gospel album with popular Christian singer Lauren Daigle; and Cole Swindell will perform with Bentley on their song "Flatliner."

"We do everything we can to keep it spontaneous, keep it exciting, keep it surprising so that people will be motivated to tell their friends about it as it's going on," said Barry Adelman, another executive producer with dick clark productions.

"You don't know what's going to happen, you don't know what somebody might say, you don't know what might go wrong, or happen unexpectedly. And that's what gives the show the edge."

The 52nd annual ACM Awards will air from the T-Mobile Arena. Keith Urban is the top nominee with seven, including a bid for entertainer of the year, pitting him against Aldean, Underwood, Bryan and Florida Georgia Line.

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Online:

http://www.acmcountry.com

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Follow Kristin M. Hall at twitter.com/kmhall

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