Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sounds and Rhythms of Afghanistan

2011 got off to a rowdy start in New York City.  Between all the APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters), GlobalFEST, and the regular Big Apple hubbub, the Afropop crew caught over 20 acts in just a few days.  Many of them were exceptional, and you will hear and see much more of them on this site in the future, starting with our upcoming report on GlobalFEST.

But first, a word about a truly remarkable act that actually has nothing to do with the usual Afropop agenda.  Sounds and Rhythms of Afghanistan (SARA) is a consort of four, young, virtuoso musicians of central Asia--three from Afghanistan and one from Uzbekistan--who play a generous and highly original repertoire of popular, classical, and religious music from this profoundly rich and deeply troubled country.  Salar Nader is a protégé of tabla giant Ustad Zakir Hussain.  Nader grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and became a recognized master of Indian classical music.  But he has maintained a deep connection to his Afghan roots, learning the country's traditions, and even composing music for a theatrical production of Khaled Hosseini's novel The Kite Runner.

Salar Nader and Homayun Sakhi
Homayun Sakhi is one of the greatest living masters of the quintessential Afghan lute, the rubab, which dates back to the 7th century.  With both plucked and sympathetic (resonating) strings, the rubab produces ancient, hypnotic sonorities, and in Sakhi's hands, it is an electrifying instrument to behold.  Sakhi left Afghanistan for California just ten years ago, and returns home often.  In fact, after SARA's debut in Abu Dabi last summer, he brought Nader for his own first visit to Kabul, and they played a series of informal, but well-received duo concerts around the city.   They also paid a visit to the US Embassy there, and persuaded officials to support the SARA project financially.  Bravo to our enlightened representatives in Kabul.  This group stands to do as much to make a better future for Afghanistan as any diplomat or soldier.

SARA's vocalist, Humayun Khan, grew up in the US, like Sader, far from the world of his Afghan ancestors.  Khan enjoyed an American childhood in northern Virginia, and became drawn to the music of his ancestral home only after attending a concert of Indian classical music at the Kennedy Center in the late 1980s.  Before long, he was traveling to India to study with a master, and learning a wide range of regional music, including Sufi devotional songs, romantic Ghazals, and Afghan popular and folkloric music.  He brings all that experience to bear in SARA, perhaps the only group on earth able to cover all this ground.

Abbos Kosimov

The fourth and most recent member of the group is simply one of the most talented hand percussionists alive.  Abbos Kosimov grew up in Uzbekistan playing the country's most popular frame drum, the dorya.  But Kosimov quickly moved beyond tried and true repertoire and techniques.  He began playing along with any recording he could get his hands on--Afghan music, Indian classical music, jazz, rock.  In his hands, the dorya simply had no limit.  The moment Nader heard Kosimov tickling the skin of his drum with his fingertips and producing complex rhythms like a tabla player, he knew this was the man to complete this one-of-a-kind ensemble.  And SARA was complete.

Humayun Khan, Homayun Sadkhi, Salar Nader, Abbos Kosimov

There are recordings of the various members of SARA, notably in the Smithsonian Folkways "Music of Central Asia" series.  And you can find out more about SARA via Dawn Elder Management (  Meanwhile, we await the first full-fledged SARA recording, and be on the look out for this act at a festival or performing arts center near you.  Time spent with these four, brilliant, optimistic men and their sublime musicianship will give you a completely new impression of Afghanistan, and a welcome one.
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