Various Artists

Anthology of World Music: Afghanistan

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As an installment of a series whose goal is to explore as many music cultures as possible, an album featuring the music of a region situated at the crossroads of the continents is a necessity. Afghan music is as diverse as the continent around it, and stretches perhaps further. This album attempts to show the breadth covered by the music. The first two songs hail from the region around Pamir, where some of the most ancient musics are held, largely uninfluenced by outside sources. Here, listeners are treated to a song vaguely reminiscent of medieval European vocal music, and an ancient violin piece that would appear to be the precursor of Italian Renaissance music. A flute piece from the Mazur-I-Sharif region holds uncanny parallels to ancient Greek music to finish off the journey through the eastern mountain regions. As the album moves toward central Afghanistan, a wedding piece with large drums and oboes presents itself with sonic similarities to the temple-circling ceremonies of India as well as the bagpipe songs from Brittany. Staying near Kabul, a solo dambura player accompanies his own "love chant" with a style refreshingly simple, making a sharp distinction to the next item: a national dance played by a Radio Kabul grouping of a number of musicians from throughout the country with all of their respective instruments -- a relatively dramatic if jumbled affair.

A tanbur player from Farkhar accompanies his own singing in Persian of an old song in tribute to the region, and back in Kabul, a peasant dance evokes the ancient European forms thoroughly. The album moves to the Pashtun south and produces a vaguely Pakistani chant, then returns to Kabul for one last song. Back to the north, an Arab-esque piece is performed on the dambura and vocals, followed by a tumbur solo from Turkestan. A song recalls the glory of Ghazni to the southeast, and a chorus from the Panshir region recalls a primitive Hindu style. The album ends on a pair of solos: the sarinda of the south, which would seem closely related to Eastern European gypsy music, and the dotar in western Heart, which shows a bit of the old Russian influence. While there is perhaps little in this album that doesn't recall in some manner the music of other cultures, what is surprising is the breadth of influence enjoyed by these musics (which largely predate their similar rivals in Europe, etc.). Whether outside music was influenced by the Afghan developments or had its own parallel development, it is striking to hear the similarities along the way. For a comprehensive look at the music cultures of an extremely diverse country, this album is by far the way to go.

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