Fazal Ahmadyar (singer, songwriter, harmoniumist) is one of few living musicians who can speak about creating music in Kabul during the Afghan Golden Era. My father socialized at parties with the greats of his time: Zahir Howaida, Zaland, Pranat + Chitram, Rahim + Salma Jahani, Hakim tabla nawaz, Aziz Ashna, Masoud Jamal, Mawash, Ahmad Zahir to name a few. Artists would also gather at his home on Thursday nights until early morning playing music. People from all stature of society would come since my uncle was an Afghan Army General.
He was part of a vanguard of artists shaping the modern day sound and look of Afghan music incorporating western instruments. He was “brothers” with Zahir and Kabir Howaida so although my father did not professionally pursue Afghan music in Kabul, he was present at Zahir Howaida Radio Kabul recordings, concerts, Talab Gar theater shows, and also acted in the first Afghan movie with Zahir. Zahir was the first Afghan to help create the music genre “Amateur" which was a movement of non-traditional musicians creating a modern approach to folk and classic music. Before “Amateur” was created only traditional Ghazals, klasik, and folk music were accepted as legitimate music. I would say that Amateur Afghan music was the modern day pop music of Kabul in the 60s and 70s that experimented with and incorporated western instrumentation in their music. Zahir paved the way for Ahmad Zahir and new forms of music outside of Kharabat, Kabul to gain recognition as Afghan music.
In 1970, before immigrating to California, my father and Kabir traveled to visit Zahir who had gotten a scholarship to study music in Russia. There were few Afghans in the Bay Area (or even the West Coast) during this time so everyone knew each other. Like in Afghanistan, my father and his friends played music weekly and were often invited to perform at weddings. My sister, brother and I grew up performing music and dancing at weddings with our father. He eventually let music become a hobby and it wasn’t until our first return visit to Kabul in 2015 that we decided to begin performing professionally together again.
Experiencing my elders in Kabul cry when they heard my father sing songs from the 60’s and hearing their hearts break telling me that they cannot believe that young people in Afghanistan will never know the freedom and beautiful life they had prior to the Soviet Occupation made me understand the legacy my father and musicians of his time carry. Especially due to the current Taliban Occupation, its so important for me to keep the sound and stories of a free Afghanistan alive and accessible for others.
The Afghan Golden Era gave artists time and space to experience life, to develop a craft with resources from the government, and to participate in intentionally developing Afghan culture.
I see how unique my father's experience is. I hope that this journey telling his story and producing his music connects me with other Afghans who share stories from the Afghan Golden Era. In addition, inspire Afghans to gain strength from our musical ancestors before occupations and to create a sound that is unique to our diaspora’s development of Amatuer (pop) music. Afghans may not have a safe place in Afghanistan to create music /artistic products right now and may be displaced globally, but we are connected through our music and our traditions and will continue to grow and shape the art of our diaspora with the wisdom from our elders and creative ancestors. - Lilah