This unusual CD presents valuable recordings of the great master of Afghan rubab, USTAD RAHIM KHUSHNAWAZ, playing at his home in Herat, western Afghanistan. They were made by his friend the Afghan-music singer, Veronica Doubleday, in the course of a 3-week visit in 1994. At the time she was working with him on learning old songs from the Herati repertoire. The recordings allow us to enjoy music-making in the relaxed atmosphere of Rahim’s household, with sounds of his children, the occasional murmur of whispered conversation, and – particularly – the remarkable singing of his two canaries. The sound of birdsong is much appreciated in Afghanistan, and these unique recordings offer a privileged opportunity for us to contemplate the extraordinary expressive interaction between a human being and his songbirds. The rubab is the national instrument of Afghanistan. Some tracks feature solo rubab, but most of them include drum accompaniment by excellent professional musicians who were visiting the house. We hear Rahim’s renditions of folk pieces, classic popular songs from the 1950s-70s, and two beautiful performances of ragas in the Afghan style. The CD is accompanied by a fully informative 16-page booklet.
USTAD RAHIM KHUSHNAWAZ (c. 1947-2011) came from a distinguished family of hereditary professional musicians in the city of Herat. His paternal grandfather was a tabla player, and his father Ustad Amir Jan Khushnawaz was a pre-eminent singer. As a young man Rahim’s outstanding talent was quickly recognised, and he soon became Herat’s most outstanding rubab player. His distinctively lyrical and meditative style reflects his sensitive and modest nature, and his feeling for Herati folk material. In 1995 Rahim made his European debut at the Theatre de la Ville, Paris. Soon afterwards, with the advent of strict music censorship under Taliban rule, he migrated to Meshhed, eastern Iran, becoming thoroughly involved in the music scene there. However, he returned to live his final years in his native city, once more occupying his house by the great mosque. A generous teacher, he would receive his students in a tiny upper room. In his very last days, although weak and ill, he was still performing at weddings. He lived for his music.