Thursday, February 16, 2012


Here’s one of my favorite things: ethnomusicology.  I actually have a degree in music from Indiana State University, and world music was one of my favorite classes.  Although I knew that every country has its own music, there were parts that were somewhat “outside the box” of the Western music that we are more familiar with. It really opened my eyes to what music really is.

MUSIC:  When it comes to Afghan music, there are many similarities to the music of India and of Persia. The Afghans have taken certain musical styles and instruments and made it their own by making some subtle changes. One instrument that is popular in Afghan music is a drum called the tabla.  There are two drums played together, similar to bongos, where the smaller one is usually tuned to a pitch (usually tonic, dominant or subdominant) and the larger one has more of resonating bass tones.  

The rubab is a small stringed instrument that is similar to a lute. Now, I’m not a string person (yes, I know the piano has strings, but I normally can’t see them, so it doesn’t count), so I’m reaching beyond my scope of knowledge here. But there are a ton of strings on the rubab: three melody strings, three drone strings and 11 or 12 resonance strings that are plucked. Beyond that, it’s a mystery. But I love the sound.

One of the traditional dances is called the attan. It has its roots in Zoroastrian culture, and started out as a folk dance, but was adapted into the Islamic culture of Afghanistan. It’s danced to the music of drums, usually a dhol (a traditional double-headed drum), during times of celebration. Different areas have their own versions of the dance.

They do have their own pop music that became popular starting in the 1950s. And in some multi-cultural areas, like in Kabul, you’ll even find Afghan hip-hop. It’s not too bad if you’ve got an open mind. I even liked some of the songs I’ve heard. Too bad I can’t find it anywhere in the US. At least not where I’ve looked yet.

ART:  If you look at architecture in Afghanistan, you’ll find remnants of several cultures and peoples that have lived or occupied the area at one point in time or another, mainly Persian, Arab, Indian, and Buddhist architectural styles across the country. Unfortunately, years of war have destroyed a lot of historical buildings and sculptures. The Afghans are also known for their jewelry, especially pieces made from gold. Because of its location along the Silk Road, the Afghans also learned how to develop ceramics from the Chinese, and you’ll find ceramic tile art as well as pottery. Afghan blankets are also popular and can be seen all over the world along with Afghan rugs.  

LITERATURE: Most early literature and poetry had been passed down verbally in the traditional sense because many people at that time could not read or write. (Literacy still happens to be a problem today in Afghanistan.)  There are several poets who are listed as being influential, including Khushal Khan Khattak who is often thought of as a national hero. Folktales are a popular form of teaching history, beliefs and life lessons. During the their many times of war, most poetry and literature tends to center around Islam and freedom and bringing the people together as Afghans. There are a few modern authors who have become popular, namely Khaled Hosseini, whose book “The Kite Runner” was a best-seller and motion picture. I’ve not read it yet, but it’s been on my list for a while now.

The arts show a sense of the soul of the nation and who has influenced it. Although this is a country that struggles and has struggled in the past, it knows who it is at the heart of it all. You can sense that struggle and the effects of occupations and wars in its literature; you can sense the influence of their neighbors and friendships in their music and rich history through their art.

Next up, it’s time to eat.

Wikipedia articles: “Khaled Hosseini,” “Music of Afghanistan,” “Tabla,” “Rubab,” “Attan”
Afghanistan’s Web Site – Literature:
Afghanistan’s Web Site – Art and Architecture:

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