Musician Lanny Cordola is an Orange County native who graduated from Cypress High School. The founder of House of Lords, he has played with Ozzy Osborne, Cheap Trick and others. Cordola now spends most of the year in Kabul, Afghanistan, teaching guitar and rock music to street kids, particularly girls. (Photo by Ana Venegas,Orange County Register/SCNG)
Two young faces.
That’s what drew Orange County native and rock musician Lanny Cordola from Southern California to the narrow, dusty lanes of Kabul, Afghanistan.
Those faces, bearing crooked smiles and piercing dark eyes, belonged to Afghan sisters Parwana, 11, and Khorshid, 15, who joined other street kids – many orphaned by continuing strife – selling scarves, chewing gum and other trinkets to G.I.s.
The skateboarding sisters were among four children and three adults who fell victim to a suicide bomber on Sept. 8, 2012.
In 2014, Cordola, with the help of his Pakistani musician friends, arranged a trip to Kabul to meet with the girls’ family. The journey to their dilapidated home atop a hillock left him heartbroken … and inspired.
Early this year, Cordola moved to the Sherpur neighborhood of Kabul setting up an after-school program – the Miraculous Love Kids – teaching street children, mostly young girls, to play guitar and a repertoire from John Coltrane and the Beatles to Coldplay.
His first student? Mursal, the younger sister of Parwana and Khorshid, now 12.
“Music is more than the pursuit of fame and money,” said Cordola, 55, who has collaborated with a number of musicians including Ozzie Osborne, Teddy Andreadis from Guns N’Roses, John Stamos, Macy Gray and the Beach Boys. “It’s much deeper. It has tremendous healing power.”
PEACE JAM III
On Sunday, Cordola, who was born in Cypress and grew up in Huntington Beach, will host Peace Jam III. The third annual program, at the Gaslamp Restaurant in Long Beach, is a fundraiser for the children who have become his family and for their Miraculous Love House, which has grown into a sanctuary for 50-plus street kids.
A majority of the children Cordola teaches don’t speak a word of English. But, he says, they are learning the language through lyrics.
“They are learning about America from John Coltrane, Ireland from Bono, Jamaica through Bob Marley, and England through the Beatles,” he said.
Cordola’s club doesn’t discriminate against boys, but he says his program is meant for young Afghan girls, who don’t have as many options for education, enrichment and fun, as do boys.
He tries to build up their self-worth by talking to them, by paying some of the more advanced students including Mursal to teach younger kids.
“I guess my goal is to do my part to change lives for girls and women in that country,” Cordola said.
‘SING FOR MY MOTHER’
Over the last several months, Cordola has taken the children to play at the sites of three suicide bomb attacks where people were killed. He and Mursal played the guitar and sang Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” with a boy who had lost his 9-year-old sister in an attack.
He and a group of girls stood outside a mosque near the site of another attack singing Coldplay’s “Panic.”
“Oh all that I know/There’s nothing here to run from/Cause here/Everybody here’s got somebody to lean on.”
One of the girls, Gulnaz, softly told Cordola before they started singing that her mother had died there.
“Should we leave, should we go?” Cordola asked the girl.
“No,” Gulnaz said. “I want to sing for my mother.”
And she did.
“I think it gave the kids a lot of hope and comfort,” Cordola said.
‘GUITAR INSTEAD OF A GUN’
Cordola doesn’t look like the average Afghan man. He is clad in jeans and a T-shirt. He wears a necklace with a guitar pendant and a number of bracelets clasp both of his wrists. A beret-like hat caps his shock of long, brown hair.
“Lanny turns heads, but he’s a down-to-earth guy,” said Abubaker Gharzai, who earlier this year opened the first movie theater in Kabul for women.
Gharzai often invites Cordola and his students to the theater to watch a movie and relax, for free.
“I see what Lanny does as providing a kind of therapy to these children, many of whom have witnessed horrible things no child should see,” he said.
Cordola also helps improve the image of Americans in Afghanistan, Gharzai said.
“He’s walking around with a guitar instead of a gun,” he said. “That helps.”
Cordola goes out to refugee camps and orphanages to play and sing with children there as well. Sometimes, he pulls out his guitar and starts playing on the street.
“It’s like he’s the Pied Piper because the children gather around him very quickly,” said David Lavery, a Canadian national who provides security and other services for professionals visiting Afghanistan. “His brand of rock and roll is positive. He has a calling and his music heals.”
Lavery says he worries about Cordola’s safety sometimes because “things can turn around very quickly here.”
“There’s no ease about this place, it’s harsh and unforgiving,” he said. “But Lanny has a friendly disposition. Even here, he puts people at ease.”
As for Cordola, this is what he plans to do for the rest of his days. He wants to teach more children. He wants to make them teachers. He wants to produce videos and is planning on doing an album with the kids.
“Yes, guitar is a part of it and music is a part of it,” he says. “But love – that’s the main ingredient.”