Metallica, the architects of thrash metal who later transformed into one of the best-selling rock bands of all time, and Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, founder of the Afghan National Institute of Music, both accepted the prestigious Polar Music Prize from the hands of His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at a ceremony held at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm on Thursday evening.
Metallica and Dr. Sarmast are the latest Laureates to win the prize founded by ABBA manager, music publisher and lyricist Stig “Stikkan” Anderson. Anderson petitioned the Nobel Prize committee in the late 1980s to add a music award. When his idea was rejected, Anderson created his own award, the Polar Music Prize. First presented in 1992, the Prize has gone to many of the world’s greatest pop, classical and jazz artists, including Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, B. B. King, Ennio Morricone, Sting, Renée Fleming, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Yo-Yo Ma, Max Martin, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, Patti Smith, Wayne Shorter, Björk and Isaac Stern.
In accepting the Polar Music Prize, founder and drummer Lars Ulrich said, “The type of music that we play was not supposed to be acknowledged or embraced by the mainstream, the media or even large audiences. In 1981 when this band formed, I just wanted to play music in a collective setting and feel like I belonged to something bigger than myself. From the beginning, we always felt like outsiders, we always felt like somehow we were not good enough, not cool enough to be accepted by a general music audience, so we found strength and solace in the little bubble we occupied way out in left field. Then an unexpected thing happened. The mainstream audience began moving closer and closer to the area where the disenfranchised like ourselves were hovering…so receiving this prize solidifies the idea that no matter how alienated you feel, connecting to other people through music is not only possible, but can be outright inspirational and life-changing.”
In his acceptance speech, Dr. Sarmast said, “It was not too long ago that the Taliban forbid all music throughout Afghanistan and silenced our nation’s musical history….In recognition of the musicians who survived the silence (and) were forced to seek asylum abroad, and those who lost their lives upholding their musical rights, I raise this award in their honor.”
The citation for Metallica, spoken by Ian Paice and Roger Glover of the band Deep Purple, reads in part, “Not since Wagner’s emotional turmoil and Tchaikovsky’s cannons has anyone created music that is so physical and furious, and yet still so accessible…Metallica has taken rock music to places it had never been before.” The citation for Dr. Sarmast and the ANIM, spoken by Afghan recording artist and TV host Aryana Sayeed, reads in part, “…this inspirational organization has used the power of music to transform young people’s lives….ANIM, a decade on (after its founding), flourishes and is committed to preserving Afghanistan’s rich musical heritage and to providing a safe learning environment to hundreds of boys and girls.”
Marie Ledin, Managing Director of the Polar Music Prize and daughter of the late Stig Anderson, thanked her parents, as well as the Royal Family for “leading rock musicians in Swedish drinking songs” over the years, and their ongoing support for the Prize.
The ceremony and banquet followed by one day the annual Polar Tech and Polar Talks presentations and panel discussions, as well as on-stage interviews with the two Laureates.