New Internationalist

The Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan

November 2010

By Various Artists

Thanks to the Taliban’s capacity to be killjoys of the first degree, The Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan opens up with a well-known Afghan song – ‘Zim Zim Zim’ – so zappy that it would make their puritanical hearts explode. And it’s sung by a woman. To be honest, Zim’s 90 seconds in not one of this double album’s highlights – it has unattractive squelchy synth lines, programmed percussion and it seems to be looking for a disco. But its singer, Setera Hussainzada, is a forward-looking woman who defies death threats to go on stage.

Produced with the Rough Guide’s typical panache, this survey of Afghan music is an eye-opening one. Thorough sleeve-notes remind us that pre-Taliban Afghanistan was a music-loving place, saturated not only with Sufi devotional songs, but folk tunes that reflected the country’s location between Pakistan, Iran and the ‘’stans’ of the former USSR. Interestingly, women also had a role to play in it: the deeply respected traditional singer Farida Mahwash is on this compilation; so too is the popular Pashtun singer Naghma. Both women now live in the US.

As usual with the Rough Guides to Music, the strength of this album is its diversity: ‘Kataghani’, a rubub (lute) instrumental by Homayun Sakhi is captivating; so too is the second CD, devoted to the Sufi-infused music of the Ahmad Sham Sufi Qawwali Group. ‘Leili-Jan’ from the Afghan Elvis, Ahmad Zahir, is suitably moody; but for sheer bombast, Farhad Darya can not be beaten. The German-based rocker’s ‘Salaamalek’ is soaked in European Goth rock, but its refrain (delivered in English), ‘give us the peace of love’ is clear enough.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 437 This column was published in the November 2010 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

Comments on The Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan

Leave your comment


  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

...And all is quiet.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

The Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan Fact File
Product information RGNET1237CD 2CD
Star rating3

Get our free fortnightly eNews


Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Related articles

Recently in Music

All Music

Popular tags

All tags

This article was originally published in issue 437

New Internationalist Magazine issue 437
Issue 437

More articles from this issue

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

If you would like to know something about what's actually going on, rather than what people would like you to think was going on, then read the New Internationalist.

– Emma Thompson –

A subscription to suit you

Save money with a digital subscription. Give a gift subscription that will last all year. Or get yourself a free trial to New Internationalist. See our choice of offers.