Ahmad Zahir

Ahmad Zahir

Infobox Musical artist
Name = Ahmad Zahir
Background = solo_singer

Img_size =
Img_capt =
Birth_name = Ahmad Zahir
Born = birth date|1946|6|14|mf=y
Laghman, Afghanistan
Died = death date and age|1979|6|14|1946|6|14|mf=y
Kabul, Afghanistan
Genre = Soft rock, pop, ghazals, Arabesque
Occupation = Singer, songwriter, composer
Instrument = Harmonium, piano, accordion, electronic keyboard, acoustic guitar, electric guitar
Years_active = 1960s–1979
Label = Afghanistan´s urban Music, Ariana Records, EMI, Music Center

Ahmad Zahir ( _fa. احمد ظاهر, born 14 June 1946, died 14 June 1979), was a Persian/Tajik singer, songwriter, and composer in Afghanistan. A celebrity of enduring popularity more than a quarter century after his death, he is considered an icon of music in Afghanistan.

Early years

Ahmad Zahir was born on June 14, 1946 ("Jauza 23, 1325" of the Persian/Khurasani/Neyshabury calendar (see Omar Khayyam and Iranic calendar)) in Kabul, to Persian-Tajik parents. [http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/tajikistan/story/2008/07/080718_er_rudaki_mulian.shtml] [Khelâze Zawân-e Ahmad Zaher; 1979 Kabul, Jawid Ahmadi] [Zindaginame Ahmad Zahir; 1999 Tehran, Houshang Mahrufi] [Ahmad Zahir, Afghanistan´s Elvis Presley; 2003 Kabul, Yussuf Akbar Khan] [Ransânse Farhange Farsi-e Dari; 1987 Herat, Farhad Shiringol] [Professor Enayatullah Shahrani (Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty of Kabul University) (1999). "Bazmeh Ghazal".] The family belong to a sub-group of Tajiks from Laghman, that is called "Furmuli". His father, Abdul Zahir, was a royal court doctor, minister of health and also a one-time prime minister, speaker of the parliament and an influential figure in the Zahir Shah era and wrote the Constitution of Afghanistan after graduating from Columbia University of New York. Like other ethnic Tajiks who engaged (high) positions in the court and later in the parliament, he mostly hided his ethnicity since the royal house was very ethnocentric and with it´s actions against the other ethnics of Non-Pashtun origine. He was also a coeval of General Hussain Khan, father of later president Babrak Karmal. Only some close friends were familiar with that fact. Because of this the Zahirs are considered as Pashtuns by Pashtun ultra-nationalists who seek for an own national identity of modern days. Due to his nobility of birth, Zahir's profession as a singer later became a point of contention between the singer and his elitist father. Still, Zahir loved to sing and pressure by his fans also kept him performing.

Zahir's music interest developed in the early 1960s with involvements in his high school band. The Amateur Band of Habibia High School modeled themselves after such Western musical groups as the Beatles. Also, in school taught in Pashto, he began to do a favour for his own native language which was banned for decades in schools by the fascist Pashtun government of Zaher Shah and his family [http://www.subcontinent.com/research/sapra_documents/Problem_of_Institution_Building_in_Afghanistan.pdf] , who ironically were self persianized (See also Pashtunization) [http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2004/jan/16/1] [http://books.google.com/books?id=FApipiENsgwC&pg=PA36&dq=Tarzi+nationalism&sig=ACfU3U2ExeSf4rMrbB3pQHXeI_nayeCdqg] ["Afghanistan: Some new approaches" page 85; 1969 Grassmuck & Adamec (University of Michigan: Center for Near Eastern & North African Studies)] ["My Life and Struggle", the autobiography of Abdul Ghaffar Khan (a Pashtun Indian political leader during British rule) page 52,"Pashtu is the national language of Afghanistan ... You call yourself a good Afghan and you can't even speak your own language?!"] ["Afghanistan, dust and roses"; 1996, Martin Mykiska] The five-member band garnered notability with their performances in local concerts at (Nouroz, Eid, and "Afghan Independence Day" festivals and were centered in or around Kabul.



Rising from the acclaim of the band, Zahir branched onto his solo career by the late 1960s. Much to the dismay of his father who looked forward to a political career for his son, Zahir did not follow his father’s footsteps in statesmanship. Instead, he retained his political insight and later on integrated them into his music. He began composing Persian songs based on well recognized verses of Persian poetry. His sources were classical and modern Persian(/Tajik) poets like Rumi, Hafez, Saadi, Ansari, Forough Farrokhzad, Khalilullah Khalili and other. He had also one song in Pashtu which was difficult for him to compose it since he was not a native speaker of the language. The meaning and depth of his songs quickly garnered him national attention as did the tenor voice that was complementary to a wide range of musical notes. This work earned critics’ commendation, marking him one of the few musicians who achieved this prestigious honor from the start. The release of his first album was celebrated on radio and newspapers across Afghanistan as jubilant fans fought for the remaining copies of the best seller.


Zahir was introduced to the best of Afghanistan’s music scene by the thrilled recording studios. Working with Tajik veteran mentors such as; the late Ustad Ismail Azami saxophonist , Ustad Nangalai trumpeter, Abdullah Etemadi drummer and other composers such, Salim Sarmast, Naynawaz, Taranasaz, and Mas'hour Jamal. He recorded over 22 albums in the 1970s. His songs were noted for their mellifluous tone, poetic style, compelling depth, and passionate emotional evocation. Creating an aesthetic vocabulary in dealing with joy, love, pain, and loneliness in his music that is seen as unparalleled by other singers of Afghanistan. Covering such wide range of subjects, his music had a multi-dimensional lure. Most of his songs were autobiographical and political critics on the government.

By the mid 1970s, Zahir's fame had matured and his popularity spilled over national boundaries. At the formal invitation of Empress Farah (then ruler of Iran), he sang the famous melody "Banu Banu" in her honor which he performed in the Royal Court of Iran. After returning to Afghanistan following his well received Iran tour, Zahir was conferred the national "Singer of the Year" award. In his acceptance speech, he advised aspiring singers that "Ghorur shikast hunari bar mewarad…riqabati hunari bayad sahlim bashad nah hasahdat amiz”" (vanity brings failure to artistry…competition in arts needs to be void of envy). He also travelled to Tajikistan where he have till today a large fan-community.

Toward the latter part of 1970s, his iconic image transformed to that of a national hero, with his fans celebrating him as Conqueror by Music. In this time period he also became a devout patriot as many of his songs from this time period reflect his strong political views.

Political controversy

With the rise of various political factions in the late 1970s, Zahir became conscious of the socio-political transformation of Afghanistan. Some of his radical songs such as "Zindagi akhir sarayad" convey the views of a revolutionary artist. His next song "Ilahi man namedanam" played on the radio stirred controversy for its politically provocative lyrics. According to government insiders, the song's verse "Tu padshah-e haft kishwar" drew criticism from the Pashtun government. The administration assumed Ahmad Zahir had denounced President Daoud Khan who was also minister of numerous cabinet positions and well-known for his acts against the Persian culture, identity and language of Afghanistan. Soon, radio stations banned the song due to the political pressure levied by the government.

Then in April 1978, the republic was replaced by dictatorship led by Pashtun President Taraki and eventually by Hafizullah Amin. In recordings of his upcoming albums, he voiced his protest against the Taraki-Amin regime in at least three songs: "Safar bih roshenahi", "Chi mulk ra baad" and "Bigzarad bigzarad." In the last song, he referred to Taraki as " _fa. Tariki" (Persian for darkness), making a mockery of the new political leader and picking out as central theme his dreadful cleansings (in northern parts of Afghanistan).


Noone is sure about Zahir´s death. It is thought that President Taraki caused his death because Zahir had a short affair with his daughter. Taraki set a killer on him who killed him in June 14, 1979, on his 33rd birthday. Zahir was on the Salang pass Highway when reportedly he was involved in an automobile accident. He was found dead. The doctors, who later re-examined Ahmad Zahir’s body after autopsy, concluded he was also shot in the head.

Personal life

Zahir married twice. He and his first wife divorced in 1973, at the zenith of his career. Little is known about the reason of this split. Zahir remarried in 1977 and he left behind two children, a son (first marriage) and a daughter (from his second marriage) both of whom live in the United States. His son was born in Seattle, Washington while he and his wife Najia were on vacation.


Zahir's fame has not been compared to any previous singer in Afghanistan’s history, earning him as "Afghanistan’s Nightingale" title. His status has been unrivaled even 27 years after his death (as of 2006). Posthumously granted the status of a luminary, the renditions of his songs serve to this day as voice and music training lessons for the aspiring singers. Often others’ voice command is evaluated based on Zahir’s standards, a reference point to whom the new singers are measured. He is still celebrated as the most popular musician phenomenon and, for many, the purest embodiment of modern music of Afghanistan (see Afghan music).

With over 22 albums (not including the improvised recordings) in less than 15 years, he has more songs to his credit than any other singer from Afghanistan. He is widely popular in Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikestan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India and Turkey, everywhere were Tajik and Persian-speaking communities are found.


Persian Music albums

*"Vol. 1 - Dilak am" (1967)
*"Vol. 2 - Bahar" (1967)
*"Vol. 3 - Shab ha ye zulmane" (1968)
*"Vol. 4 - Mother" (1969)
*"Vol. 5 - Awara" (1969)
*"Vol. 6 - Ghulam-e Qamar" (1970)
*"Vol. 7 - Sultan Qalbaam" (1970)
*"Vol. 8 - Az Ghamat Hy Nazaneen" (1971)
*"Vol. 9 - Gulbadaan" (1971)
*"Vol. 10 - Yaare Bewafa" (1971)
*"Vol. 11 - Lylee" (1971)
*"Vol. 12 - Ahmad Zahir and Jila" (1972)
*"Vol. 13 - Ahange Zindagee" (1972)
*"Vol. 14 - Shab-e Hijraan" (1973)

Note: that most of his "Persian Music" albums have other songs that should go with the original albums but because of the time and space on audio cassettes a lot of his songs are moved from the original recordings. If people have the original vinyl records then they have all of the songs that should be placed on the albums.

Ariana Music albums

*"Vol. 1 - Daard-e Dil" (1973)
*"Vol. 2 - Mosum-e Gul" (1974)

Note: For people who have the original "Ariana Music" records for Ahmad Zahir, there are many hidden tracks in the original albums.

Music Center albums

*"Vol. 1 - Neshe Gashdum" (1974)
*"Vol. 2 - Ashiq rooyat Mon" (1975)
*"Vol. 3 - Lylee Jaan" (1976)
*"Vol. 4 - Ahmad Zahir Ba Sitara Haa" (1977)
*"Vol. 5 - To Baamanee" (completed in 1978 but released in 1979 after his death)

Private albums


Other discography information

* He has over 10 private recording albums from 1965–1978
* He only recorded 2 music videos in Radio Kabul TV.
* Laylee Jaan in 1976 and Khuda buwat yarret in 1977
* Ahmad Zahir recorded several songs in "Radio Kabul" and "Radio Afghanistan" studios which later on came out as albums. There are now a total of his eight of these albums that have been released.
* It is said that he has several music videos and a concert recorded on video in Iran.
* It is rumored that Ahmad Zahir has a concert and majliss that Radio Kabul had recorded but the Khalq regime destroyed the recordings.



*cite web|url=http://www.ipsnews.net/new_nota.asp?idnews=27558|title=Muted Musicians See Hope in Young Performers|work=Afghanistan Online|accessmonthday=27 August |accessyear=2005
*cite web|url=http://www.hauntedink.com/almaty/photos1.html|title=Central Asia in Words and Pictures|work=Almaty or Bust|accessmonthday=27 August |accessyear=2005
*cite web|url=http://www.adequacy.net/review.php?reviewID=3579|title=Review of " Anthology of World Music: The Music of Afghanistan"|work=Delusions of Adequacy Reviews|accessmonthday=28 January |accessyear=2006
*cite web|url=http://www.mikalina.com/Texts/music-afghanistan.htm|title=Afghan Music Before the War|work=Mikalina|accessmonthday=27 August |accessyear=2005
*cite book|title=Music in the Mind: The Concepts of Music and Musician in Afghanistan|author=Sakata, Hiromi Lorraine|year=1983|publisher=Kent State University Press|id=ISBN 0-87338-265-X

External links

* [http://www.AhmadZahirworld.com Ahmad Zahir World - official fan site]
* [http://www.ahmadzahir.net/ AhmadZahir.net]
* [http://www.forums.ahmad-zahir.com Ahmad Zahir fanclub]
* [http://www.arianamusic.net/ahmadzahir Ahmad Zahir on ArianaMusic.net]
* [http://www.virtualafghans.com/music/ahmad_zahir/ Collection of Ahmad Zahir songs, albums and videos Virtual Afghans]
* [http://www.eafghans.com/music/index.php?action=artist&id=1 Listen to complete albums and songs of Ahmad Zahir and videos on eAfghans]
* [http://www.afghansongs.de/musik/artist.php?id=88 Ahmad Zahir Laghmani´s Persian Albums and songs (Laghmani)]

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