Music of Afghanistan

Music of Afghanistan

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The music of Afghanistan has existed for a long time, but since the late 1970s the country has been involved in constant wars and people were less concerned about music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

. As such, music in Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

 has been suppressed and recording for outsiders minimal, despite a rich musical heritage.

During the 1990s, the post-Soviet and Taliban governments
Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was founded in 1996 when the Taliban began their rule of Afghanistan and ended with their fall from power in 2001...

 banned instrumental music and much public music-making. In spite of arrests and destruction of musical instrument
Musical instrument
A musical instrument is a device created or adapted for the purpose of making musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can serve as a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates back to the...

s, musicians have continued to play their trade into the present. The multi-ethnic city of Kabul
Kabul , spelt Caubul in some classic literatures, is the capital and largest city of Afghanistan. It is also the capital of the Kabul Province, located in the eastern section of Afghanistan...

 has long been the regional cultural capital, but outsiders have tended to focus on the city of Herat
Herāt is the capital of Herat province in Afghanistan. It is the third largest city of Afghanistan, with a population of about 397,456 as of 2006. It is situated in the valley of the Hari River, which flows from the mountains of central Afghanistan to the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan...

, which is home to traditions more closely related to Iranian music
Music of Iran
The music of Iran has thousands of years of history, as seen in the archeological documents of Elam, one of the earliest world cultures,which was located in southwestern Iran...

 than in the rest of the country. Lyrics throughout most of Afghanistan are typically in Dari (Persian)
Dari (Persian)
Dari or Fārsī-ye Darī in historical terms refers to the Persian court language of the Sassanids. In contemporary usage, the term refers to the dialects of modern Persian language spoken in Afghanistan, and hence known as Afghan Persian in some Western sources. It is the term officially recognized...

 and Pashto
Pashto language
Pashto , known as Afghani in Persian and Pathani in Punjabi , is the native language of the indigenous Pashtun people or Afghan people who are found primarily between an area south of the Amu Darya in Afghanistan and...


Religious music

The Afghan concept of music is closely associated with instruments, and thus unaccompanied religious singing is not considered music. Koran recitation is an important kind of unaccompanied religious performance, as is the ecstatic Zikr ritual of the Sufis which uses songs called na't, and the Shi'a solo and group singing styles like mursia
Mursia is a genus of crabs in the family Calappidae, containing the following species:* Mursia africana Galil, 1993* Mursia armata De Haan, 1837* Mursia aspera Alcock, 1899* Mursia aurorae Galil & Ng, 2009...

, manqasat, nowheh and rowzeh. The Chishti Sufi sect of Kabul is an exception in that they use instruments like the rubab, tabla
The tabla is a popular Indian percussion instrument used in Hindustani classical music and in popular and devotional music of the Indian subcontinent. The instrument consists of a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres...

 and harmonium
A harmonium is a free-standing keyboard instrument similar to a reed organ. Sound is produced by air being blown through sets of free reeds, resulting in a sound similar to that of an accordion...

 in their worship; this music is called tatti ("food for the soul").


The classical musical form of Afghanistan is called klasik
The classical music of Afghanistan is called klasik, which includes both instrumental and vocal forms . Many ustad, or professional musicians, are descended from Indian artists who emigrated to the royal court in Kabul in the 1860s upon the invitation of Amir Sher Ali Khan.These north Indian...

, which includes both instrumental and vocal and belly dancing ragas, as well as Tarana
Tarana is a type of composition in Hindustani classical vocal music in which certain words and syllables based on Persian and Arabic phenomes are used in a medium-paced or fast rendition...

 and Ghazal
The ghazal is a poetic form consisting of rhyming couplets and a refrain, with each line sharing the same meter. A ghazal may be understood as a poetic expression of both the pain of loss or separation and the beauty of love in spite of that pain. The form is ancient, originating in 6th century...

s. Many Ustads, or professional musicians, have learned North Indian classical music
Hindustani classical music
Hindustani classical music is the Hindustani or North Indian style of Indian classical music found throughout the northern Indian subcontinent. The style is sometimes called North Indian Classical Music or Shāstriya Sangeet...

 in India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, and some of them were Indian descendants who moved from India to the royal court in Kabul
Kabul , spelt Caubul in some classic literatures, is the capital and largest city of Afghanistan. It is also the capital of the Kabul Province, located in the eastern section of Afghanistan...

 in the 1860s. They maintain cultural and personal ties with India—through discipleship or intermarriage—and they use the Hindustani musical theories and terminology, for example raga (melodic form) and tala (rhythmic cycle).

Afghan ragas, in contrast to Indian ones, tend to be more focused on rhythm, and are usually played with the tabla
The tabla is a popular Indian percussion instrument used in Hindustani classical music and in popular and devotional music of the Indian subcontinent. The instrument consists of a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres...

, or the local zerbaghali
The zerbaghali is a goblet-shaped hand drum that is played in the folk music of Afghanistan.-Origin:The shape of the zerbghali is derived from Persian forms. In contrast with the Persian tumbak, which has a wooden body, the zerbghali is made of clay throughout Afghanistan...

, dayra or dohol
A dohol is a large cylindrical drum with two skin heads. It is generally struck on one side with a wooden stick bowed at the end, and with a large thin stick on the other side, though it is also played by the bare hands. It is the principal accompaniment for the sorna...

, all percussive instruments
Percussion instrument
A percussion instrument is any object which produces a sound when hit with an implement or when it is shaken, rubbed, scraped, or otherwise acted upon in a way that sets the object into vibration...

. Other Afghan classical instruments include the dutar
The dutar is a traditional long-necked two-stringed lute found in Iran, Central Asia and South Asia...

, sorna
The sornā or Sarnā is an ancient Iranian woodwind instrument.-Etymology:...

, sitar
The 'Tablaman' is a plucked stringed instrument predominantly used in Hindustani classical music, where it has been ubiquitous since the Middle Ages...

, dilruba, tambur, ghichak, and Rubab.

Afghanistan's classical singers include the late Ustad Mohammad Hussain Sarahang
Mohammad Hussain Sarahang
Ustād Mohammad Hussain Sarāhang was an Afghan musician and best known exponent of hindustani classical music from Kabul Afghanistan. He was the second oldest son of the renowned musician, Ustad Gholam Hussain...

 (1924-1983), who is one of the master singers of Patiala Gharana in North Indian classical music and is also well-known throughout India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

 as a contemporary of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. His composition "Pai Ashk" was used in the theme song of the Hindi film Mera Saya. Ubaidullah Jan Kandaharai
Ubaidullah Jan
Ubaidullah Jan Kandaharai, or simply known as Obaidullah Jan, was a prominent Pashto singer from Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was popular among the Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan and in Quetta, Pakistan. He brought some new style to traditional Pashto music and was considered a classical singer...

 is regarded as the king of Pashto music in the southern Afghanistan region. He died in the 1980s but his music is still very much enjoyed by the Pashtun diaspora
Pashtun diaspora
Pashtuns , also called Pathans have many communities around the world. Pukhtuns have long history to conquer and colonizing several regions especially the ancient regions of Sub-continent in duration of past few centuries...

 around the world, mainly by the Pashtuns in the Kandahar
Kandahar Province
Kandahar or Qandahar is one of the largest of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan. It is located in southern Afghanistan, between Helmand, Oruzgan and Zabul provinces. Its capital is the city of Kandahar, which is located on the Arghandab River. The province has a population of nearly...

is the largest city and the provincial capital of the Balochistan Province of Pakistan. Known as the "Fruit Garden of Pakistan" due to the diversity of its plant and animal wildlife, Quetta is home to the Hazarganji Chiltan National Park, which contains some of the rarest species of wildlife in the...

 regions. Other classical singers are Ustad Qasim, Ustad Rahim Bakhsh
Rahim Bakhsh
- Ustad Rahim Bakhsh استاد رحيم بخش :Rahim Bakhsh commonly known as Ustad Rahim Bakhsh was an ustad of Hindustani classical music and also of native Persian Khurasa classical music culture from Afghanistan. He is also well renown and popular in a few neighboring countries...

, and Ustad Nato.


The rubab is a common lute
Lute can refer generally to any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back, or more specifically to an instrument from the family of European lutes....

-like instrument in Afghanistan, and is the forerunner of the Indian sarod
The sarod is a stringed musical instrument, used mainly in Indian classical music. Along with the sitar, it is the most popular and prominent instrument in the classical music of Hindustan...

. The rubab is sometimes considered the national instrument of Afghanistan, and is called the "lion of instruments"; one reviewer claims it sounds like "a Middle Eastern predecessor to the blues
Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre that originated in African-American communities of primarily the "Deep South" of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads...

 that popped up in the Piedmont 100 years ago". The rubab has a double-chambered body carved from mulberry
Morus is a genus of flowering plants in the family Moraceae. The 10–16 species of deciduous trees it contains are commonly known as Mulberries....

 wood and has three main strings and a plectrum
A plectrum is a small flat tool used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument. For hand-held instruments such as guitars and mandolins, the plectrum is often called a pick, and is a separate tool held in the player's hand...

 made from ivory
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and...

, bone or wood.

Famous players of the rubab are Ustad Mohammad Omar
Ustad Mohammad Omar
-Early life and career:Mohammad Omar began music lessons under his father, Ustad Ibrahim, who taught him singing, sarod, rubab and dutar. In the mid-20th century, he was Director of the National Orchestra of Radio Afghanistan, which brought together folk musicians from the different regions and...

 his famous student Sardar Mado of Qargha-Kabul, now is Ustad Sardar Mado, while modern performers include Essa Kassemi, Homayun Sakhi, and Mohammed Rahim Khushnawaz.


The dombura is a popular folk instrument, particularly among the northern Tajiks
Tajik is a general designation for a wide range of Persian-speaking people of Iranic origin, with traditional homelands in present-day Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan...

 and the Hazaras in the central part of the country. Notable Afghan dombura players include Dilagha Surood, Naseer Parwani, Mir Maftoon, Safdar Tawkloi and Rajab Haideri. The dombura is played with much banging and scratching on the instrument to help give a percussive sound. The two strings are made of nylon
Nylon is a generic designation for a family of synthetic polymers known generically as polyamides, first produced on February 28, 1935, by Wallace Carothers at DuPont's research facility at the DuPont Experimental Station...

 (in modern times) or gut. They cross a short bridge
Bridge (instrument)
A bridge is a device for supporting the strings on a stringed instrument and transmitting the vibration of those strings to some other structural component of the instrument in order to transfer the sound to the surrounding air.- Explanation :...

 to a pin at the other end of the body. There is a tiny sound hole in the back of the instrument, while the top is thick wood. It is not finished with any varnish
Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective finish or film primarily used in wood finishing but also for other materials. Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a thinner or solvent. Varnish finishes are usually glossy but may be designed to produce satin or semi-gloss...

, filing
Filing (metalworking)
Filing is a material removal process in manufacturing. Similar, depending on use, to both sawing and grinding in effect, it is functionally versatile, but used mostly for finishing operations, namely in deburring operations. Filing operations can be used on a wide range of materials as a finishing...

 or sanding of any kind, and as with all other Afghan instruments there is some decoration.

Pop music

In 1925, Afghanistan began radio broadcasting, but its station was destroyed in 1929. Broadcasting did not resume until Radio Kabul
Radio Kabul
Radio Kabul is the official radio station of Afghanistan. The name Radio Kabul has been given to many different incarnations of the state-run radio station since the first radio transmitters were installed in Kabul in the 1920s....

 opened in 1940.
As Radio Afghanistan reached the entire country, popular music grew more important. In 1951, Parwin became the first Afghan woman to sing live in Radio. Farida Mahwash
Ustad Mahwash commonly referred to as Ustad Mahwash is a popular Afghan singer. She was the first woman to have been conferred the honorary title of “Ustad”...

, one of the famous female singers who then gained the title of Ustad (Master), had a major hit with "O bacheh" in 1977; she was "perhaps the most notable" of pop singers.

Modern popular music
Popular music
Popular music belongs to any of a number of musical genres "having wide appeal" and is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional music, which are typically disseminated academically or orally to smaller, local...

 did not arise until the 1950s when radio became commonplace in the country. They used orchestras featuring both Afghan and Indian instruments, as well as European clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...

s, guitar
The guitar is a plucked string instrument, usually played with fingers or a pick. The guitar consists of a body with a rigid neck to which the strings, generally six in number, are attached. Guitars are traditionally constructed of various woods and strung with animal gut or, more recently, with...

s and violin
The violin is a string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest, highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which includes the viola and cello....

s. The 1970s were the golden age
Golden Age
The term Golden Age comes from Greek mythology and legend and refers to the first in a sequence of four or five Ages of Man, in which the Golden Age is first, followed in sequence, by the Silver, Bronze, and Iron Ages, and then the present, a period of decline...

 of Afghanistan's music industry. Popular music also included Indian and Pakistani cinema film and music imported from Iran, Tajikistan, the Arab world and elsewhere.

There is also a thriving Afghan music industry in neighboring Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

, primarily located in the cities of Peshawer, Karachi
Karachi is the largest city, main seaport and the main financial centre of Pakistan, as well as the capital of the province of Sindh. The city has an estimated population of 13 to 15 million, while the total metropolitan area has a population of over 18 million...

 and the capital city, Islamabad
Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan and the tenth largest city in the country. Located within the Islamabad Capital Territory , the population of the city has grown from 100,000 in 1951 to 1.7 million in 2011...

. Much of the Afghan music industry was preserved via circulation in Pakistan and the holding of concerts for Afghan performers there which helped to keep the industry alive. Afghan performers regularly perform on Pakistani television programs and hold concerts throughout the country for the estimated 3-4 million Afghans that still live there.

Since the 2001 US intervention in Afghanistan
War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
The War in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, as the armed forces of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Afghan United Front launched Operation Enduring Freedom...

 and the removal of the Taliban, the music scene has begun to re-emerge. Some groups, like the Kaboul Ensemble, have gained an international reputation. In addition, traditional Pashtun music
Pashtun culture
Pashtun culture is based on Pashtunwali, which is an ancient way of life, as well as speaking of the Pashto language and wearing Pashtun dress. The culture of the Pashtun people is highlighted since at least the time of Herodotus or Alexander the Great, when he explored the Afghanistan and...

 (especially in the southeast of the country) has entered a period of "golden years", according to a prominent spokesman for Afghan Ministry of Interior, Lutfullah Mashal.

History of pop

Pop music emerged in Afghanistan during the 1950s, and became very popular until the late 1970s. What helped the emergence of pop music in Afghanistan were amateur singers from non-traditional music backgrounds who wanted to showcase their talents in the studio (Radio Kabul). These singers were from middle- to upper-class families and were more educated than singers from traditional music backgrounds.

These amateurs innovated in Afghan music and created a more modern approach to the traditional folklore and classical music of Afghans. Amateur singers included Akeem Mascall, Ahmad Zahir
Ahmad Zahir
Ahmad Zahir was a singer, songwriter, and composer from Afghanistan. He is considered an icon of Afghan music and is sometimes called the "King of Afghan music"...

, Nashinas (Dr. Sadiq Fitrat) Ahmad Wali
Ahmad Wali
Ahmad Wali is a popular Ghazal singer from Afghanistan. He began his career in the 1970s, becoming popular in his native country before he was forced to flee by political upheaval in Afghanistan. He continued his work after resettling in Germany, performing throughout Europe and the United...

, Zahir Howaida
Zahir Howaida
Zahir Howaida is a veteran singer from Afghanistan. Born in the city of Kabul, he has been active since the 1970s and his popularity peaked with the hit single "Kamar Bareek-e-Man," the renditions of which are sampled by Iranian and Tajik singers of Tajikistan up until today, or his song " Pari...

, Rahim Mehryar
Rahim Mehryar
Rahim Mehryar was a famous singer from Afghanistan. He and his wife singer Parasto, were counted as one of the most successful musical duos in the late 1980s that dominated the pop music scene in Afghanistan. Later he moved to Germany, where he and his wife continued their music. Rahim Mehryar...

, Mahwash
Ustad Mahwash commonly referred to as Ustad Mahwash is a popular Afghan singer. She was the first woman to have been conferred the honorary title of “Ustad”...

, Haidar Salim
Haidar Salim
Haider Salim is an Afghan singer. He now resides in Dublin, California, U.S., continuing singing in exile. Already popular before the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, he is one of the few surviving singers of Afghanistan’s 70s era musician collection who’ve maintained their popularity throughout...

, Kamal Dost, Ehsan Aman
Ehsan Aman
Ehsan Aman is a singer from Afghanistan. He is one of the few veterans of Afghanistan’s lost music Golden Age who've maintained their popularity over the decades. He already had public exposure in Afghanistan in the 1970s and early 1980s with his first singles and the performances he held at Kabul...

, Najim Nawabi, Salma Jahani, Sharif Ghazal, Hangama
Hangama is a popular singer from Afghanistan. She is born as Zohra in 1962 in Kabul. When she became a singer her mother chose the name Hangama for her. She currently lives an exile in Toronto, Canada where she continues her music career...

, Parasto
- Biography :Parasto came from a very strict religious family from Kabul. She started her career with the song "Saqi" in the early 1970s on Radio Kabul. Parasto graduated from Zarghona Girls' High School in Kabul. Her most popular songs are "Juz Tu Zinda Am", "Zindaghi Yak Rahe Door", "Yak Shabe...

, Naghma
Naghma is a prominent Afghan singer who started in the early 1970s. She and her ex-husband, Mangal, were a popular musical duo who dominated Afghan music scene during the 1970s and early 1990s. Naghma sings in Pashto and Dari...

, Mangal
Mangal is the name for Turkish barbecue. In a more social context, it resembles braai of South Africa.Mangal is popular in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Israel, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and countries in the Levant...

, Farhad Darya
Farhad Darya
Farhad 'Darya' Nasher is an Afghan singer and composer, as well as a highly acclaimed music producer, and Good Will and Peace Ambassador for Afghanistan to the United Nations. Widely popular, he has earned affection for not only his music but also patriotism...

, Sarban
Abdul-Rahim Sārbān , known simply as Sarban, was a singer from Kabul, Afghanistan. He was born in Kabul an old area called to rice verdure father and stay home mother. He is known for his unique voice and music style that no other singer from Afghanistan has been able to imitate...

, and others. Ahmad Zahir was among Afghanistan's most famous singers; throughout the 60s and 70s he gained national and international recognition in countries like Iran and Tajikistan.

Afghan hip hop

Afghan hip hop is a type of music popular among Afghanistan's youngsters and immigrant community. It inherits much of the style of traditional hip hop, but puts added emphasis on rare cultural sounds. Afghan hip hop is mostly sung in Dari (Persian), Pashto, and English. One popular hip hop artist is DJ Besho (Bezhan Zafarmal), a resident of Kabul.

External links