Music in Afghanistan
By: Vaheed Kaceemy
Music in Afghanistan roots its origin in the ancient era, centuries back. Historical records, ie Arian literature prove that both music and dance existed during the pre-migration Vedic epoch in the vast highly-mountainous territory currently called Afghanistan.
Poetry composing and reciting has also been a long-practicing tradition mainly carried out in family set ups transferring from generation to generation as a cultural custom.
According to the foregoing source, a range of Vedic songs and Zoroaster gathas were created in this part of the world. It is also believed that the tune of flute was widely enjoyed in both the residence and court of Yama, the very first king in Bactra, aka Balika, the present day Balkh.
Presence of the afore-mentioned gathas and songs prove the existence of music as an "additive" to poetry and recitation.
Arian sultans were also of the habit of inviting musicians to perform when royal families and high-ranking officials were having meals, to make the atmosphere more pleasant.
Some figures such as music-players of ancient Bamiyan valley, where two giant Buddhas were carved, are indeed living proofs indicating the gloom of music in the pre-Islamic era in this area.
Various names, Bactra/ Balika/ Bokhdi/ Balkh, Ariana, Khurasan, Sistan, Takharistan, Turkistan, Zabul, Samangan, Ghazna, Koshan civilization, geographically and historically specify the location recognized as present Afghanistan.
Furthermore, the field of music in both neighbouring and distant regions such as India, Iran, Arab, Tajikistan, and even Greece is inter-related with what we currently consider as Afghan music by any standard.
Music researchers have figured out that century-old music pieces, termed as "Western style", were evident in Nuristan, far-eastern Afghanistan.
This can at best be interpreted as
1) some resemblance, with unknown reasons, are possible to emerge between two corners of the world that seemingly are poles apart.
2) social inter-action, impressions, and association with elements of human touch may have resulted in such an exchange.
Barbad or Barbad the Great was the most famous and skilled court musician of the Sassanid Empire. Barbad is remembered in most documents and has been recognized as notably high skilled.
He has been credited to have given an organization of musical system consisting of seven "Royal modes" named Khosrowani thirty derivative modes named lahn, and 360 melodies named dastaan. These numbers are in accordance with Sassanid's calendar of number of days in a week, month, and year.
The great poet and musician of Ghaznavid court, Farrokhi Sistani along with Mohammad Barbati, considered as Farrokhi's master, Rodaki, Avicenna, Abu-Nasr Farabi (the initiator of musical harmony), Amir Ali-Sher Nawai and his master Khwaja Yusuf Burhan Jami had their precious contributions to the music." (page – 93, Herat Music)
"It was after passing the distance between Mash-had [Iran] and Islam Qala in Herat [Afghanistan] that for the first time I heard of the Afghan music. Such a wonderful achievement! I found the music neither monotonous nor melancholic. Positively, it was something quite different, but so familiar. The master was reciting poetry after poetry that obviously I was unable to comprehend (the meaning), but did enjoy the way they were presented. It was never like the non-European Western type beyond my taste. I knew it and realized that it was more like a common gatepost between east and west.", wrote Professor Mr G.P Delour. (page – 93, Herat Music)
Professor Hermann Pressel, an Austrian music researcher too pointed out to the poly-phonic style of the pure Nuristan music. He has authored the "Alphabet of Music" in three volumes.
According to Professor Hermann, the Afghan music from Badakhshan to Logar and other regions in some of their old pieces does possess elements of "Church Music", presumably coming from Greece during the invasion of this part of the world by Alexander the Great.
The influence (and therefore leaving impression) of Greek-Bactrian civilization and Buddhism during the Koshan and Yaftali era as well as social relationships/ interaction with India and China sound undeniable when it comes to assess the Afghan music.
Conversion of certain kings and sultans to other religion/ belief, ie Zoroasterian and Buddhism resulted in modification of religious-oriented music in this part of the world.
Names an categories of improved musical skills/ knowledge can be traced in a variety of documents and inscriptions from the time of Ghaznavids and Timurids and such like.
Specific terminologies like musical modes and melodies, ie Iraqi, Daudi, Delaram, Shahnaz, Oshaq Hejaz, Negar, Nawa, Humayon, Nairiz, can still be found in the context of Afghan folkloric music at any walk of life and any corner of the country.
Assuredly, a number of countries, have systematically classified their music, especially the mode-based ones. In Afghanistan too it is clearly known that most sultans until the kingdom of Amir Sher Ali and Abdul Rahman enjoyed the company of musicians, who used to present an assortment of styles and samples, ie Shighni, Kandahari, Badakhsi, and Herati –known at that time as Irani.
Well-known music master performing music reciting/ singing Persian poetry based on essential Indian guidelines were as follows, Ustad Qurban Ali, Ustad Se-tar joo, Ustad Karim Bakhsh, Ustad Qasim, Ustad Ghulam Hussain and others.
Ustad Qasim is famous for bringing significant improvements in Afghan music. He composed innovative songs, mainly focused on the poetry of Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil, performed Pashto and Dari folkloric pieces base on Indian guidelines, and established his own method known as "the Qasimi style" which is still being followed and observed – of course with slight alterations—by some present day musicians, composers, singers and vocalists.
In the last 100 years, a number of Shawqi (skilled but non-professional) and amateur singers, not trained by music masters, also stepped in to the amazing field of music.
This period can be marked from the dynamic presence of Ustad Abdul Ghafoor Breshna in radio Kabul in early 1950s. (Afghanistan began radio broadcasting in 1925. The station was destroyed in 1929, and broadcasting did not resume until Radio Kabul re-opened in 1940.)
As Radio Afghanistan reached the entire country, popular music grew more important. Since mid 1950s, there have been continued efforts to maintain the process and move on.
Moreover, there were some brilliant figures, who had the essential knowledge, skill and background of Western music in more an 'academic' way. Master Farokh Afandi is believed to be the most famous name in this regard. In fact, the Music Collegiate followed the same path.
In general, the same variables as various accents and divergence in intonations in different places of the country, a extensive range of musical presentations are being practiced allover Afghanistan.
The native/ indigenous folkloric music of Afghanistan has been vividly bricked-up on ancient Khorasani Modes. All Hazara, Paktia, Wardak, Jalalabad, Badakhsha, and Uzbik music works do display a certain degree of their own peculiar specifications associated with that Indian guidelines.
Modern popular music did not reach its peak until early 1960s when radio became commonplace almost allover the country.
It is sad to conclude that neither official, nor individual sources have ever tried to undertake a research project to have an in-depth study in this field.
The present Zeer-wa-Bum site -- with its skeleton resources – is starting to present a periodical update and therefore perpetuate the Afghan music.