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Afghan Music
Ahmad Zahir
Ahmad Wali
Husain Anosh
Hayder Salim
Farhad Darya
Qadir Ashpari
Wahid Qasimi
Habib Qadiri

 
Afghanistan, whose previous name was Ariyana, was so named about a century and a half ago by King Ahmad Shah. In the interchange of cultures in Asia, Afghanistan-the land between the Oxus and the Indus-has always been an important crossroad. For centuries, whoever occupied the passes of the Hindu Kush ruled the doorway to India and China. Persians, Indians, Turks, and Mongols all have their kin in this country and have had their influence upon the character and culture of the Afghans. The Afghans are proud of their heritage, especially of such national traits as honesty, hospitality, and friendliness. The music of Afghanistan is deeply rooted in tradition and folklore, and it is very much alive in the hearts of the people. It is an essential part of their life, and a colorful expression of the national temperament

Traditional Afghan and Near-Eastern music were brought to the Indian subcontinent by Islamic rulers and strongly influenced the local classical music. The music of Afghanistan shows the impact of Indian film music, the popular music of neighboring Iran, which in its turn has absorbed Western styles. Yet despite the influences of these foreign styles, Afghan music has preserved its unique character.

Among the stringed instruments, the six-stringedrubab is thought to be the ancestor to the Western violin and cello. Therubab is a true Afghan instrument also used widely in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan, in Kashmir, and in some parts of northern India; it is also considered to be the ancestor of the Indian sarod. The four main playing strings are gut, struck with a plectrum. There are also a large number of sympathetic stings. It is said that therubab may be related to lute-type instruments depicted on relief of the Gandharan (Greco-Buddhist) Period of Afghan art (ca. 2nd century A.D.).

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Traditional Afghan and Near-Eastern music were brought to the Indian subcontinent by Islamic rulers and strongly influenced the local classical music. The music of Afghanistan shows the impact of Indian film music, the popular music of neighboring Iran, which in its turn has absorbed Western styles. Yet despite the influences of these foreign styles, Afghan music has preserved its unique character.

Among the stringed instruments, the six-stringedrubab is thought to be the ancestor to the Western violin and cello. Therubab is a true Afghan instrument also used widely in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan, in Kashmir, and in some parts of northern India; it is also considered to be the ancestor of the Indian sarod. The four main playing strings are gut, struck with a plectrum. There are also a large number of sympathetic stings. It is said that therubab may be related to lute-type instruments depicted on relief of the Gandharan (Greco-Buddhist) Period of Afghan art (ca. 2nd century A.D.).

The history and status of Afghan instruments are very different. The rubab is regarded as the national instrument of Afghanistan, and is used as a solo instruments and as part of the typical ensemble used to accompany singing. It probably dates from the late 18th century. One hundred years later in India it was modified to become the sarod: its frets were removed, the melody strings were changed from gut to steel, and the neck and upper chamber were covered with a thin steel plate to facilitate the use of glissando. In contrast, the dutar is fairly a modern instrument, devised in 1965 by a Herati musician employed at Radio Kabul, Mohammad Karim Herawi. He wanted to adapt the dutar so it could play the same music as the rubab, especially the genres of Afghan art music with which it is so closely identified. The sitar and the tunbur, both long-necked lutes, also played some role in its design. Like the rubab, the fourteen stringed dutar is used as a solo instrument. The rubab and dutar are played extensively as solo instruments with drums accompaniment provided by tabla, zerbaghali, or dhol.

The tanbur is also a lute of Afghan origin. It has two main wire strings struck with a wire plectrum and numerous metal sympathetic strings, producing a metallic timbre. Other instruments such as the Sarinda and Sarangi relate more to the Indian world. The former is popular in the eastern and southern provinces of Afghanistan among Pashtuns. In the case of both the Sarinda and the Sarangi the strings are not pressed against the fingerboard while playing, as with the Western violin, but resonate freely.

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Another "important" instrument is the santur, a type of hammered dulcimer native to Persia. It is also used in the Punjab, Kashmir, and parts of North India. The strings are tuned in pairs or groups of three and are struck with small wooden hammers.

The drums of Afghanistan can be divided into two groups: single membrane instruments of Persian origin with a goblet shaped body called zerbaghali, and double membrane instruments of Indian origin like the tabla, or the two-headed dhol which is an Afghan originated instrument.

There is also a vertical flute with six finger-holes called the tula and the Afghan dotar a three stringed lute which is plucked. Also heard are the tamboura, and the harmonium, a small portable version of the European instrument; and the European clarinet.

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The ethnic and linguistic diversity of Afghan music has popularized a number of regional or local music; such as hazaragi music; from the Hazarajat region, Tajiky, Uzbaki and Herati music. Of all the regional music, Herati music is best known for its tuneful and lively melodies. The city of Herat (located in Western Afghanistan) attained its peak of fame and splendour in the 15th century, during the epoch of the Timurid rulers Shah Rukh and Sultan Hussein Baiqara, when it became the capital of a large empire and the cultural centre of the Persian speaking world. Since that time Herat has undergone a slow but unrelenting decline in its fortunes, and we can be sure that the music of the city has undergone many changes over the centuries. The most recent of these was the adoption of music from Kabul in the 1930s. Nevertheless, it is still possible to identify a number of vocal and instrumental genres of Herati music. With the adoption of music from Kabul, and instruments such as the harmonium, the tonal system used in Herat became like that of Kabul, with an octave divided into 12 approximately equal intervals.

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The art music of Kabul has close links with that of North India. The connection, which has probably existed for a long time, was consolidated in the 1860s when a number of musicians from India were brought to Kabul as court musicians. They maintained a theoretical and practical knowledge of Indian music, able to sing khyal and lighter forms of vocal music. At the same time, they cultivated and developed more distinctly Afghan genres of art music, notably the Kabuli ghazal vocal form, and an instrumental genre called the naghmeh-e kashal ("extended instrumental piece") which was especially associated with the rubab. Such a piece consists of three main sections: the shakl, and extempore exegesis of the melodic characteristics of the mode in free rhythm; the astai, the main composition, repeated many times with rhythmic variations, and the antara, a series of short compositions played several times each, with gradual acceleration towards the end of the piece. Such composition are usually in Tintal, a metric cycle of 16 matras(beats). There is a tendency to use what in India are regarded as "light" ragas, with few rules and scope for the use of additional notes. The naghmeh-e kashal had an important role as an introductory piece, to warm up the musicians, the instruments, and the audience at the beginning of a set of songs in the same mode.

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During the Afghan civil war many well-known musicians left Kabul to settle as refugees in Mashhad (Herat's sister city in Iran), Pakistan, India, Europe and North America. Music was patronized by the government during the period of communist ascendancy, and musicians were often to be heard and seen on local radio and television. After the fall of the communists and the establishment of a fragmented but strongly religious Islamic Polity, music was denounced as "forbidden". This had made life very difficult for professional musicians, who have little opportunity to perform at occasions such as weddings, parties, and Ramadan concerts which in the past formed their staple income.

When the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996, all forms of music was "forbidding". Kabul offer its residents very little in the way of entertainment, even the Taliban soldiers think life is pretty dull in Afghanistan. Now that music is forbidding (Except Taliban songs), there is nothing in Kabul that would alleviate people suffering, at least music did made Afghans forget their pain and sorrow, even if it was just for a moment.

Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see Afghan music is flourishing , especially in Europe, Australia Canada and the US. The new generation of Afghan artists is using the more modern instruments such as organs, electrical guitars and synthesizers. The Afghan music scene is constantly changing, especially, in the west where the great Afghan music revolution is underway; with the advance in music technology Afghan artists are discovering new ways to develop, define and shape Afghan music and to ensure Afghan heritage is preserved for future generation.

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Afghanistan, with a total population of between 20 and 25 million (1995 census), has two official languages: Dari from old Persian, and Pashtu which is an Afghan language. Dari is a language widely spoken in Afghanistan. It is, in its written form similar to the language of Iran. Pashtu is divided into two important dialects and is the national language of Afghanistan. The majority of Afghans are fluent in both Dari and Pashtu.

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