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.