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The Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan: Great Album and Important Historical Document

The recently released Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan is as important historically as it is fascinating. Let’s not forget the “ban” in Taliban – during their official reign (many parts of Afghanistan are still de facto Taliban territory), music was outlawed. And even prior to the Taliban takeover, Afghan musicians who challenged previous regimes often paid with their lives, as in the case of balladeer Ahmad Zahir – represented here by a hypnotic, orchestrated, somewhat lo-fi hit – murdered at the peak of his popularity at age 33. Also included here is Setara Hussainzada, a finalist from the popular tv program Afghan Star (the Afghani equivalent of American Idol), driven into hiding after a wardrobe malfunction (her burqa slipped, revealing her face). Her contribution is a brief, somewhat woozy Bollywood-ish dance-pop number.

Although sarinda fiddle player Mashinai’s life was spared, his son’s was not. His child murdered and his house blown up, Mashinai was forced to give up playing and worked as a butcher at a local open-air market until music returned to the Afghan airwaves in 2001. Here he turns in a bracing fiddle-and-tabla instrumental. Perennial Afghan chanteuse favorite Mahwash contributes the collection’s best song, the furtively majestic Mola Mamad Djan, which with its intense dambura lute solo and insistent vocals reminds how deeply the levantine art songs of Oum Kalthoum and Fairouz had penetrated the Islamic world. The levantine mood recurs with a towering instrumental by the late rubab (lute) virtuoso Ustad Rahim Khushnawaz, accompanied by damburist Gada Mohammad and percussionist Azim Hassanpur, and on an understatedly lush ballad by female singer Naghma, Lebanese pop teleported to Kabul.

Of the other tracks here, rubab player Homayun Sakhi has a catchy, hypnotic instrumental punctuated by some genuinely breathtaking tremolo-picking. Damburist Mehri Maftun delivers a trickily polyrhythmic live performance, the crowd clapping along happily (which makes sense, given how long Afghanis went without the opportunity to do that). 20-year-old Rafi Naabzada (the 2009 Afghan Star winner), accompanied here by multi-instrumentalist Hameed Sakhizada has a deliciously tuneful, psychedelic pop song that sounds like a Central Asian Chicha Libre. Farhad Darya has two versions of the same song, a plea for peace: one a crunchy 2/4 rock number that gives shout-outs to cities around the world (in English), the other with more of a Bollywood dance-pop flavor. There’s also a long, trance-inducing traditional number from the Ahmad Sham Sufi Qawwali Group, who are included on a full-length bonus cd of similarly soaring, hypnotic devotional songs and instrumentals. The album is out now from World Music Network; those who like this may also enjoy the recently updated Rough Guide to the Music of India.

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January 6, 2011 Posted by | folk music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/6/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Thursday’s is #754:

Ellen Foley – Spirit of St. Louis

Often referred to as the “lost Clash album,” this 1981 obscurity features the band plus several of the sidemen who made Sandinista such a masterpiece backing Foley – already a bonafide pop star at the time in Europe (she had a #1 hit in Holland), who was dating Mick Jones at the time. You could call this the Clash’s art-rock album. It’s a mix of Strummer/Jones originals plus a handful of covers, and Foley’s own sweeping, evocatively riff-driven Phases of Travel. Her lovers-on-the-run pop duet with Jones on Torchlight is still fetching after all these years; her cover of Edith Piaf’s My Legionnaire is decent but nothing special. The two gems here are violinist Tymon Dogg’s wrenching, haunting ballad Indestructible, and the dramatic flamenco-rock anthem In the Killing Hour, a pregnant woman pleading for the life of her wrongfully convicted man as he’s led away to his execution. Otherwise, there’s the lush art-pop of The Shuttered Palace; Dogg’s eerie, surreal The Death of the Psychoanalyst of Salvador Dali and the minimalistic, reggae-tinged Theatre of Cruelty; the resolute feminist anthem Game of a Man; a big powerpop number and a couple of love songs. Foley followed this up with a forgettable new wave pop record; these days, she sings wry, clever Americana songs and can be found frequently on weekends playing New York’s Lakeside Lounge with her band. Oh yeah, she was also the girl on the Meatloaf monstrosity Paradise by the Dashboard Light. Here’s a random torrent.

January 6, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment