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Assessment of Afghanistan’s Music in the last 100 years

By: Mohammad Ehsan Irfan

Music is a sentimental and human phenomenon that its subtilizing effects has transformed into a vital element of the daily life like eating without which living is not possible and it has conquered the hearts of all the humans and rooted into their warp and woof and all the ingredients of their bodies which therefore (as music is a common language of the human beings), no any other phenomenon such as music is able to connect people of different political and ethnic thoughts. Thus, it is only art of music which can bring together nationalities into a nation and nations around the world closer and together.
Vocal attractions are so effective on the spirits of the humans that we cannot underestimate their positive impacts in the society specially in political, social, economic, and cultural aspects of life.
Aryan Music:
This music, in its origin and indigenous form, was a religious music that spread to India and Persia through the Aryan immigrants. It had a different form in the wade age, changed in the Avesta age and brought about new movements in India and Persia. Wade age cantata attests of music being common during the era of first Aryan king Yama.
World’s famous historians have written about Aryan music as:
Herodate has written about the Aryan music that “Aryans did not have slaughterhouses and fire temples and did not pour wine on their death graves, but instead one of the religious leaders would show up and sing a religious song.
Greek historian, Xenophon, writes about Aryan epic music in his book Cyropedie “ Cyrus, due to the habit that he had, would chant cantata and his soldiers would repeat after him and after the cantata start moving in an arranged order towards the battle.
This music, until the emergence of the holy Islam, was being used in different forms and has had its up/downturns in Islam.
There are no evidence of Afghan music from the 17th and 18th centuries, however, at the ends of the 18th century, Temor Shah wanted to celebrate his victories and invited artists from India and Punjab to perform. But due to various problems, this celebration did not happen, and these artists were not able to return to their countries due to economic problems and therefore got settled in the Khwaja Khordak area now known as Kharaabaat street.
The artists that came to Kabul during the Amir Sher Ali Khan and Amir Abul Rahman Khan reigns included Ustad Samandar Khan (Grandfather of Ustad Natu) Barpur Khan (Grandfather of Abdul Wahed Saarang Player), Ustad Sayen Gotkali, UStad Rang Ali, Ustad Gamu Khan (Grandfather of Ustad Sarahang), Ustad Karim, Ustad Khudabakh (Grandfather of Ustad Rahim Bakhsh) and Ustad Satarjo (Father of Ustad Qasem).
130 years ago, Afghanistan’s music started to become a victim of big wave which came through from India and in a very little time, made the original Afghan music suffer. This included change from the original domestic styles to more outside styles which affected the popularity of the domestic style of music. Therefore, a new and bright style of music got famous in the country and bloomed very well and its combination with the domestic Afghan music brought about a new horizon.
The period of Ustad Qasem and Ustad Ghulam Hussain was a blooming period. Ustad Ghulam Hussain used to sit in a corner of the cinema hall and play piano during the time when soundless movies were played in Kabul cinemas for the first time and would attract attention of the viewers. During Shah Amanullah Khan Ghazi’s reign, music was included in the curriculum of three schools, namely Esteqlal school, Habibia school and teacher training center in Kabul.
Ustad Qurban Ali in Esteqlal school, Ustad Natu in Habibia school and Ustad Pirbakh in teacher training school were designated as music teachers and provided music lessons to the students twice a week. However, after it was published in the standing order and was being used, due to perturbation created by Mula Abdullah, aka Mulaye Lang, music was removed from the schools’ curriculum.
One good thing about Ustad Ghulam Hussain was that he was a real and good song composer and after Ustad Qasem, he was the one among his Kharaabaati Ustads that kept composing different songs.
After the death of Ustad Qasem and Ustad Ghulam Hussain, other music teachers like Ustad Sarahang, Ustad Yaqub Qasemi, Ustad Shaida, Ustad Rahim Bakhsh and Ustad Omar came to the scene and they all worked in the Radio Afghanistan and had several valuable recorded clips which were broadcasted after going through a professional commission’s check. After this period (1330), Kharaabaat street had a good boom and all the artists used to live middle class lives and rendered good attention to their art.
In the year 1325 a female voice of a 6-year-old girl was first heard by the people who was a student in Malalai school in second grade. During that time, Ustad Breshna, a famous painting artist and musician was the head of broadcasting department of Radio Kabul. He had good relations with the family of the girl and encouraged the girl a lot. He recorded her two songs and broadcasted it which was liked by the people and once in one of his interviews, Ustad Breshna, named this girl (Freshta) as the first female singer. However, later, due to social and cultural issues, she abandoned the art of singing. After Freshta, another girl by the name of Saamea Mirzad (Shahla) and after that two other ladies namely Azada and Naheed and a blind woman by the name of Alamtab sang in Kabul Radio, but abandoned singing after she got married. Miss Parwin whose original name is Khadija and is daughter of Sardar Mohammad Rahim Khan (Sheon Rahmanzai) had an art contract with the department of Pohene Nendari with its concerts division. In the later years she worked with Department of Music of Ministry of Information and Culture as a singer and sang songs in Uzbeki and Balochi languages as well in addition to Pashto and Dari.
After the 40s, amateur artists like Ahmad Zahir, Zahir Howaida, Mashhoor Jamal, Ahmad Wali, Hangama, Naghma and Mangal also entered the music industry and sang several songs. This process continued until the year 1357 and the number of such singers started to increase. In the meantime, National Television started its broadcasting and the chances of broadcasting songs through television became available.
During the Democratic Republic times, music found its way to the schools where madrigal songs groups of boys and girls were established and their songs were broadcasted through national television also radio Afghanistan and later Radio Television of Afghanistan started to include music of all the tribes in their programs and provided support for them and each one of them had their separate programs.
The artists who worked with National Radio Television and Department of Music had to record two songs which went through the professional commission before being broadcasted. Upon this, those artists were paid their salaries. The archive of the National Radio Television is the evidence that until the year 1370 Afghanistan’s music had good boom.
Music educational entities that were active during the recent 100 years:
As Shah Amanullah Khan had good perspective towards music, he recruited two music teachers, Qadir, from Iran as teacher and one specialist from Russia. But due to unfavorable situations, these teachers returned to their own countries back. In the year 1312 during the reign of Nader Shah, one music teacher was invited from Turkey and during the same year King Nader Shah was assassinated and the teacher, Khalid Rajab Bik, returned to his country.
Ministry of War of Afghanistan requested for 22 persons who had experience in music art from the army and were put under pilot training under Rajab Bik’s tutorship and they were provided with music note theoretically and practically.
In the year 1315 music school was included in the structure of the Ministry of War and local people were promised waver of the mandatory military service if they admitted their sons in this music school and were also provided 300 as salary.
Radio Kabul Courses:
A: First was established in the year 1318 and continued until 1322 for the period of 4 years. Its teachers were Ustad Farukh Afandi (teacher of western notation), Ustad Ghulam Hussain and Ustad Nabi Gul (singing teachers) Ustad Mahmood (Tabla teacher), Ustad Merajuddin (Setar teacher), Ustad Nazer (Delruba teacher), and Ustad Omar (Rubab teacher) and for the students, there were 300 Afghani provided to them as salary.
B: Second course of Radio Afghanistan was established in the year 1335 and continued until year 1337 and its teachers included Ustad Saleem Sarmast and Ustad Nangyalai.
C: The third course of the Radio Afghanistan was established in the year 1336 in which Mr. Freeman provided training on western music notation to some amateur and professional singers and music players.

Music Course of Ministry of Education:
This course was established in the year 1338 with assistance from Austria in which professor Flaschiman was the head of the course, Ms Flaschiman was a Piano teacher and professor Schlaifer was teacher of trumpet, trombone and baritone.
Music High School was established under the structure of Ministry of Education. Its teachers included Faqir Mohammad Nangyalai, Saleem Sarmast, Abdul Rahim Nala, Mohammad Ismail Azami Nawshad and Mohammad Sadeq.
In the year 1363 education on playing original Afghan musical instruments also started.
This training was provided by Ustad Hashem, Ustad Ghulam Nabi, Ustad Akram Rohnawaz and Ustad Kabir.
Department of Music of the Faculty of Fine Arts was established in the year 1363 beside painting, graphic, theater and sculpture departments. Ustad Mohammad Hashem, Mohammad Kabir, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Akram Rohnawaz provided training in the eastern style music and Ustad Faqir Mohammad Nangyalai, Ustad Saleem Sarmast, Ghulam Sakhi Samim and Abdul Malok in western style music.
Indian Classical Music Training Center:
This center was established in the year 1363 with assistance from India and under the structure of the Department of Music of Ministry of Information and Culture. In this center, in addition to Afghan musical instruments, Indian musical instruments such as Sitar, Tabla and singing were also taught by Indian teachers. Afghan musical instruments were taught by Afghan teachers. This center was active for 6 years and fortunately, myself, the writer of this article, was a student in this center and learned classical music under the guidance of Ustad Irfan Mohammad Khan theoretically and practically and in the year 1367 I started job as Sitar training teacher in the Department of Music of Faculty of Fine Arts.
Names of the Orchestras that have been active during the last 100 years:
1- Military Orchestra of Afghanistan
2- Pashto Orchestra of Radio Kabul
3- Classical Orchestra of Radio Afghanistan
4- Keliwali Orchestra of Radio Afghanistan
5- Jami Orchestra of Radio Afghanistan
6- 38-person big Orchestra of Radio Afghanistan
7- Military Ensembles (Army Ensemble, Ministry of Interior Ensemble, Laala Group related to Directorate of Security)
8- Red Rose Ensemble
9- Sada (Voice) Orchestra
10- Bahar (Summer) Orchestra and Nargis Ensemble
11- Saman and Baran Orchestras
12- Jazz (Number 2) Orchestra of Radio Afghanistan
After the year 1371 and victory of Mujahiddin and the beginning of internal war, most of the artists fled the country. The television would only show pictures of these artist while broadcasting their songs. Interesting part was that the department of music was named department of Islamic songs and was later removed from the structure of Ministry of Information and Culture.
During Taliban regime, the artists were humiliated, and their musical instruments were broken which forced the remaining artist to flee the country and this continued for 6 years.
Music art situation in the recent 20 years has not been satisfactory as well, as with the development in technology, most of the unexperienced youth started to re-sing the old songs with assistance from technology and without any professional assessment of these songs, they are broadcasted by media. These songs are very low in quality and are not up to international standards and need to be revisited.
In addition, music groups continue to perform without any specific license and in a way, evade tax payment. This has further deteriorated the situation of music in the country and with their high-volume loudspeakers, they create nuisance and noise pollution. It is necessary that such these groups, music courses and production entities are registered with the department of music so that on one hand their activities are standardized and on the other hand, considerable revenue could be generated from it.

 

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