OF THE MOUNTAINS” CD by AZIZ HERAWI
Master of the Afghan Lutes
are honored with the release of this new concert recording
of the master musician Aziz Herawi playing dutar and rabab
Herawi, or Aghasab as he is reverentially addressed, carries
the melodies of his native Herat to Afghani refugee communities
around the world. Being born into a family of noted clerics
was not an ideal circumstance for a budding creative musician;
he was forced to practice clandestinely to avoid the wrath
of his elders. Since Herawi's father did not approve of
playing music, as a boy Herawi taught himself to play his
main instrument, the dutar (a long-necked 14-stringed lute),
like an eagle's nest amidst gigantic mountains, Afghanistan,
known to be the heart of Asia, is one of the oldest countries
of the ancient world, possessing a written history of five
thousand years. Afghanistan's geographic position acted
as a liaison between east and West, providing a commercial
link as well as a channel of ideas, art, culture, and music.
Herat, the birthplace of Aziz Herawi, in Khorasan the birthplace
of Rumi, a prominent stop of the fabled "Silk Road"
where traders from Mediterranean countries, Central Asia,
China, Persia, and India came together. While it is difficult
to trace a continuous line of development for Herati classical
music from the fifteenth century to the present day, it
is clear that the cross-fertilizing relationships between
Persian, Afghani, Central Asian Turkic, and Indian musical
cultures reflect a history of constantly changing political
and economic affiliations.
known in Herat as an enthusiastic performer and a generous
patron of other musicians, as well as for his broadcasts
on Radio Afghanistan, Herawi finally left Afghanistan in
1983, whisking his family to safety across the border to
Peshawar, Pakistan, and then on to California in 1985, home
to some 10,000 plus Afghani refugee families.
music is a blend of Persian and Hindustani instruments and
styles. His playing of the dutar and rabab (a short-necked,
double-chambered plucked lute and Herawi's second instrument)
is very typical of the Herat style although Herawi plays
the folk melodies of several distinct cultures from many
regions of Afghanistan. The pieces have the varied rhythms
of the Hindustani raga forms, but are much shorter and more
intense than most Hindustani music. Herawi often builds
up to very fast tempos, and employs a wide range of dynamics,
ometimes playing very quietly for dramatic effect.
an international troubadour of Afghani music, Herawi has
himself become part of an emerging class of xpatriate Afghani
artists devoted to the survival and promotion of a new Afghani
national musical culture in a world of changing social and
raucous improvisatory performance that had the audience
clapping along (Aziz Herawi's) playing was about abandon
and ecstasy, with intense sections of improvising- always
grounded in a galloping rhythm- giving way to delicate,
airy moments, soon forgotten in a flurry of heated improvisation.”
Watrous — New York Times)
Herawi -Master of the Afghan Lutes
musician Aziz Herawi was 7 the first time he heard the strings
of the dutar being plucked. He talked one of the family
servants, who hid it in a blanket, into buying the instrument
for him from a shepherd. The boy would wait until his father
was asleep, then sneak into the woods surrounding their
home. Alone, in the dark, he practiced, teaching himself
to play the long-necked 12-stringed dutar.
is now 57 and a resident of Sacramento, California. His
music is a blend of Persian and Hindustani instruments and
styles and considered to be typical of Herat, Herawi´s
hometown, near the northeastern border with Iran.
pieces have the varied rhythms of the Hindustani raga forms,
but are short and more intense than most Hindustani music.
They often build to very fast tempos, with a wide range
of dynamics, sometimes becoming very quiet for dynamic effect.
His lute playing also draws from Persian music, Hindustani
talas, and the folk forms and rhythms of the Afghan mountains.
In addition to the dutar, he will also play the 24-stringed
rubab. Herawi told the Los Angeles Times last year through
an interpreter that his music comes from the "heart
York Times critic Peter Watrous wrote in the early 1990´s
that Herawi´s music "was about abandon and ecstasy,
with intense sections of improvising, always grounded in
a galloping rhythm, giving way to delicate, airy moments."
to a well-to-do family of mullahs, or religious clerics,
the musician´s father was extremely conservative and
allowed his children to listen to news on the radio but
turned it off before music was broadcast. Like some conservative
Christians, he believed that music caused "people to
dance and loose control of themselves," Herawi told
the Los Angeles Times. The self-taught musician was still
a young man when his father died, and he was able to pursue
his passion openly. "I invited well-known Ustads (master
musicians) from India and other regions to learn from and
to play with," he said. "Because what drove me
to music was my god-given love for it. When I am holding
one of my instruments-especially the rubab-it is like I
am holding on to the universe." While still in his
20´s, Herawi became a well-known performer in Afghanistan.
He played before the king, Zaher Shah, with pop artist Ahmad
Zahir, and went on the road to Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan,
Turkey, and other Central Asian nations.
career came to an abrupt halt in 1979 when the Soviets bombed
Herat and troops arrived to round up local leaders. Herawi
was away at the time, practicing with musician friends,
but most of his family was killed. "I went to the mountains,
sometimes on horseback, sometimes on foot," he said.
"Risk was everywhere, from the Soviets, as well as
from the Soviet-sponsored local tribal forces. The risk
was death and death was common." Traditionally, music
accompanied nearly every private and public ceremony, with
the exception of funerals. During those grim and desperate
times of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Herawi lived in
the mountains with the moujahadeen. He did not play or even
hear much music for more than five years. "I was not
happy, and that is why I did not play," he said, "it
did not feel right, since the country was at war, and my
family members were killed. I was given the opportunity
to lead 1,500 men. And, as a commander, my mind was in the
war, not music, at the time." As things worsened in
his homeland, Herawi fled to Pakistan in1983 and settled
into the Afghani expatriate community in Northern California
two years later. Despite his many years in the United States,
Herawi still does not speak English well enough to be interviewed
without a translator.
has released three CD´s. Herawi believes his primary
mission is to help young Afghanis connect with a heritage
they barely remember. Herawi´s music "represents
the deep roots of Afghanistan, transcending ethnic, linguistic,
and tribal boundaries."