Songs from Kabul: The Spiritual Music of Ustad Amir Mohammad  book cover
1st Edition

Songs from Kabul: The Spiritual Music of Ustad Amir Mohammad

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ISBN 9780754657767
Published April 16, 2019 by Routledge
120 Pages

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Book Description

This book presents the vocal art music of Kabul as performed by Ustad Amir Mohammad. At the heart of Kabul's vocal art music is the ghazal, a highly flexible song form using Persian (or Pashto) texts derived from a variety of sources. Much of this poetry is in the Sufi tradition, with frequent metaphoric allusions to love, wine and intoxication. In musical terms, the Kabuli ghazal style is related to ghazal singing in India and Pakistan, but the setting of the texts to music is distinctly Afghan, with interpolated couplets sung in free rhythm, fast instrumental sections and dramatic rhythmic cadences. As befits a Sufi music, it has a regularly repeated cyclical structure with trance-inducing properties. Central to the book is the audio CD, containing six ghazals, one mosammat and one Afghan-style tarâna, all recorded by John Baily between 1974 and 1976 in the city of Herat, in western Afghanistan. At that time Ustad Amir Mohammad was Herat's most sought-after singer in the Kabuli style, playing mainly at wedding parties of wealthy Heratis. In these valuable recordings he is accompanied by two outstanding local musicians, Rahim Khushnawaz on rubâb, and Gada Mohammad on dutâr.

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Introduction; The art music of Kabul; Amir Mohammad in Herat: making the recordings; The texts of the eight songs; Setting the texts to music; Reappraising the Kabuli ghazal; Bibliography; Index.

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John Baily is Emeritus Professor of Ethnomusicology and Head of the Afghanistan Music Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK. In the 1970s he spent more than two years conducting ethnomusicological research in Herat Province, focusing mainly on the urban music of that region. Since 1985 he has carried out extensive research on music in the Afghan Diaspora, as well as in Afghanistan itself.


’This skilfully written book will appeal to the erudite ethnomusicologist, the music student and the music enthusiast interested in the spiritual music of the Middle East. They will enjoy the in-context recordings that so naturally capture various environmental sounds and will gain insights about the impact of Hindustani music on the neighbouring Afghan music tradition. The literal, rather than poetic, translation of Sufi poetry in Chapter Three will fascinate Persian studies aficionados ... . Songs from Kabul will be a great asset to those interested in finding out more about Sufi philosophy and history in the Persianate world. Finally, this is a book that all Afghans should possess. They will learn a great deal about their own pre-war history, culture and musical esoteric traditions-knowledge and experience that Baily revives in an eloquent and intelligible way’ Ethnomusicology Forum ’Finally, we have a book that focuses on the principal vocal genre of Kabuli art music, the ghazal. Songs from Kabul presents an in-depth look at the ghazals that were sung by Ustad Amir Mohammad and recorded by Baily during his fieldwork in Afghanistan in the mid-1970s. The accompanying compact disc is requisite listening, as the book is essentially a reader for the accompanying recordings. For all of its musicological value, one of the greatest contributions of Baily’s work is that it brings Ustad Amir Mohammad into the spotlight, making his life and music known to the rest of the world. As a researcher, enthusiast, and performer of the musical traditions of Afghanistan, I was very pleased to find this informative introduction to the music of Amir Mohammad, and the art of vocal ghazal singing in Afghanistan’. Asian Ethnology