Music of Afghanistan

Since the 1980s, Afghanistan has been involved in near constant violence. As such, music has been suppressed and recording for outsiders minimal, despite a rich musical heritage.

During the 1990s, the post-Soviet and Taliban governments banned instrumental music and much public music-making. In spite of arrests and destruction of musical instruments, musicians have continued to ply their trade into the present. Kabul has long been the regional cultural capital, but outsiders have tended to focus on the city of Herat, which is home to traditions more closely related to Iranian music than in the rest of the country. Lyrics throughout most of Afghanistan are typically in Persian.

Pop Music

In 1925, Afghanistan began radio broadcasting, but its station was destroyed in 1929. Broadcasting did not resume until Radio Kabul 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, 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 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 clarinets, guitars and violins. The 1970s were the golden age 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, primarily located in the cities of Peshawer, Karachi and the capital city, Islamabad. 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 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 (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 music in Afghanistan

Pop music emerged in Afghanistan during the 1950s, and became very popular until 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 far more educated than singers from traditional music backgrounds.

These amateurs innovated in the Afghan music and created a more modern style approach to the traditional folklore and classical music of Afghans. Amateur singers included Sarban, Ustad Madadi, Ahmad Zahir, Ahmad Wali, Zahir Howaida, Rahim Mehryar, Mahwash, Haidar Salim, Salma Jahani, Hangama, Parasto, Naghma, Mangal ,Kamal Nasir Dost, Farhad Darya and others. Ahmad Zahir was the most famous of all, who gained popularity more than any other singer. Throughout the '60s and '70s he gained national and international recognition in countries like Iran and Tajikistan.

Classical music

The classical musical form of Afghanistan is called klasik, which includes both instrumental and vocal ragas, as well as Tarana and Ghazals. Many Ustads, or professional musicians, have learned North Indian Classical Music in India, and some of them were Indian descendants who moved from India to the royal court in Kabul in the 1860s. They maintain cultural and personal ties with India -- through discipleship or inter-marriage -- 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, or the local zerbaghali, dayra or dohol, all percussive instruments. Other Afghan classical instruments include the dutar, sorna, sitar, dilruba, tambur, ghichak, and Rubab.

The most famous Afghan Classical singer is Ustad Mohammad Hussain Sarahang, who is one of the Master singers in North Indian Classcial Music and is also well-known in all over India and Pakistan. Other classical singers are Ustad Qasim, Ustad Rahim Bakhsh, and Ustad Nato.


The rubab is a common lute-like instrument in Afghanistan, and is the forerunner of the Indian sarod. 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 that popped up in the Piedmont 100 years ago". The rubab has a double-chambered body carved from mulberry wood and has three main strings and a plectrum made from ivory, bone or wood.

Famous players of the rubab are Ustad Mohammad Omar and Aziz Herawi, while modern performers include Essa Kassemi, Homayun Sakhi, and Mohammed Rahim Khushnawaz.


Afghan Hip-Hop is a popular type of music in Afghanistan with youngsters and in the 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), Pushto, and English. A popular Hip-Hop artist is DJ Besho (Bezhan Zafarmal) stationed in Kabul.

The Upcoming New Hip Hop group are called by the name of Da Jokerz, bringing a fresh breeze in the afghan music industry. Visit their website for more information:

List Rappers Of Afghanistan

Religious music

The Afghan concept of music is closely associated with musical instruments, and thus the unaccompanied religious music 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, manqasat, nowheh and rowzeh. The Chishti Sufi sect of Kabul is an exception in that they use instruments like the rubab, tabla and armonia in their worship; this music is called gaza-yeh ruh (food for the soul).

See also



Further reading

  • Baily, John and John Blacking (1988). Music of Afghanistan: Professional Musicians in the City of Herat. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-25000-5.
  • Sakata, Hiromi Lorraine (1983). Music in the Mind: The Concepts of Music and Musician in Afghanistan. Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-265-X.
  • Slobin, Mark (1976). Music in the Culture of Northern Afghanistan. University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-0498-9.

External links

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