Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World

Surviving treasures from the National Museum of Afghanistan

3 March – 17 July 2011Open late Fridays

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Music of Afghanistan

An introduction to the regional music of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is home to a variety of regional music characteristic of the ethnic groups inhabiting the different parts of the country. The various regions have close relationships with the music of adjacent countries: Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Pashtun regional music is of particular importance, forming the basis of popular urban music style.

Professor John Baily and Veronica Doubleday lived in Herat during the 1970s in order to research and record the music of the city and surrounding rural areas. The following four examples come from the audio recording that accompanies Baily’s book Music of Afghanistan: Professional musicians in the city of Herat (CUP 1988). John Baily is Head of the Afghanistan Music Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Top left: Mahmud Khushnawaz, vocal and harmonium, and his brother Naim Khushnawaz on tabla. Photo by John Baily 1998.
Top right: Ustad Amir Mohammad, vocal and harmonium, Rahim Khushnawaz on rubab, Gada Mohammad on dutar, and Naim Khushnawaz on tabla. Photo by Veronica Doubleday 1974.
Bottom left: Rahim Khushnawaz playing rubab. Photo by Veronica Doubleday 1994.
Bottom right: Ustad Amir Jan Khushnawaz playing rubab. Photo by John Baily in 1977.


Filmi song Chal Chal Chal mere Sathi

The films of India and Pakistan were an important source of songs. These were shown in the cinemas of Kabul and other cities. Over the years many filmi songs were adopted by Afghan singers and entered the popular music repertory. This was sung by Mahmud Khushnawaz at a wedding party in 1977. The text is in Urdu (a language partly comprehensible to Heratis). The song is addressed to an elephant.

Mahmud Khushnawaz (vocal and harmonium), Amir Jan Khushnaswaz (rubab), Ghulam Nebi (dutar) and Naim Khushnawaz (tabla).

3.36 minutes


Chaharbeiti Shomali

Ustad Amir Mohammad was from the Kucheh Kharabat, the musicians’ quarter in Kabul and was a very popular singer in Herat, where he was much in demand. Shomali refers to a densely populated region to the north of Kabul, in Parwan Province inhabited by both Dari and Pashto speakers. Chaharbeiti is a type of Persian language quatrain much used in the folk music of Afghanistan.

Ustad Amir Mohammad (vocal and harmonium), Rahim Khusnawaz (rubab), Gada Mohammad (dutar) and Fazal Ahmad (tabla).

4.21 minutes

Herati song tune Mui Talai

Mui Talai belongs to the repertoire of traditional Herati music . The songbirds that can be heard in the recording were brought along to the recording session at a Herati hotel by the musicians.

Rahim Khushnawaz (rubab), Naim Khushnawaz (tabla).

3.56 minutes


Nagmeh–ye Klasik in Rag Des

Nagmeh-ye klasik is a ‘classical instrumental piece’ closely related to the alap and gat of North Indian music and is typical of the instrumnental art music of Kabul. The rubab is the national instrument of Afghanistan. The tabla drum pair comes originally from India but has been played in Afghanistan for the last 150 years or so.

Rahim Khushnawaz (rubab) and Naim Khushnawaz (tabla).

4.55 minutes