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  • Zulala Hashimi (R) and Sayed Jamal Mubarez (L), finalists of the music contest "Afghan Star," rehearse for the show in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 19, 2017.

    Zulala Hashimi (R) and Sayed Jamal Mubarez (L), finalists of the music contest "Afghan Star," rehearse for the show in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 19, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

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This year's "Afghan Star" is the most tradition-breaking yet in a deeply conservative country where the Taliban once outlawed music.

An 18-year old female novice singer and a 23-year old barber-turned-rapper are the unlikely finalists of a televised talent contest providing Afghans a welcome distraction from the daily bloodshed in their country.

The two are vying to become the next "Afghan Star.”

Originally due to be broadcast live, the final will instead be pre-recorded following a wave of Islamist attacks in Kabul, with the winner announced on Tuesday night.

Finalist Zulala Hashimi, from a militant-plagued province in the east, quit school and overcame resistance from relatives unhappy with her singing publicly. When Hashimi auditioned, she was one of only two women out of 300 contestants.

"I showed people that a woman can do it. I ask every woman to make an effort to reach this point," she told Reuters.

Up against Hashimi is Sayed Jamal Mubarez, a barber from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif who spent several years in Iran, one of thousands from Afghanistan's Hazara minority that sought refuge across the country's western border.

Mubarez said he discovered rap in Iran and has been writing his own lyrics ever since.

"My parents are illiterate, but when I was singing they were encouraging me, so I believed that I could win people's support," he said backstage. "But I never thought of being a finalist."

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