Crafting traditional Afghan instruments |🇦🇫 NATO and Afghanistan


Afghanistan has a rich musical heritage. Its
traditional music was once renowned across the region. But the arrival of the Soviets and the civil
war broke Afghanistan’s music industry apart. Then the Taliban banned music completely,
which forced many of Afghanistan’s talented musicians to flee the country.
In 2001 the overthrow of the Taliban regime enabled many Afghan refugees to return to
their country and begin a new life. Among them were Esa and Rafiq, famous rubab
makers in old city Kabul, who had been living in Pakistan during the Taliban times.
At their home in Kabul they make and repair rubabs and other traditional instruments.
They’ve done this their entire lives, as did their father and grand-father. “No one in the world could make rubabs like
my father could.” Esa said that during the Taliban years he
and his brother lived with their families in Pakistan but would routinely cross the
border where the wood was better. They’d rough out the bodies of the instruments and
then smuggle them back. “During Taliban times, I came to Afghanistan
three or four days a month. At that time my father was alive. We helped him get the wood
to make the rubabs with, it was not available in Pakistan. We crafted the rubab like this
and then we transported it to Pakistan.” Rafiq, Esa’s brother, told us that despite
the difficulty of making a rubab, which takes about 15-20 days — from big log to work
of art — it is a good occupation. “We like what we do because it’s in our
culture.” His youngest son is already learning. “He wants to work with us. He helps me with
the work. He’d rather do this than his studies but I’ve told him he must do both.” Rafiq also said that they won’t stop the
family tradition. “As long as we have customers here, we will
continue our work. If we don’t have any business, we will go back to Pakistan or Iran
and work there.” They make between 20-50,000 Afghani per rubab,
or between 400 and 1000 US Dollars, with the higher priced ones being decorated with inlays
of mother
of pearl. “Our work is very difficult, but those who
play the instrument become spiritually happy. The work isn’t easy. At night we feel pain
in our hands” This man has been playing for 26 years and
does wedding parties. A great feature on newer models, he says, is the jack to plug it into
an amplifier for big audiences. But he also says it’s ok to play the tambur and rubab
unplugged as well. “When I am upset, I play the rubab. In Pakistan
we were poor and hungry. One night I played Indian songs. I started playing from the evening
until 2 am. In the morning our neighbours came and asked me what I was playing. I told
them it was the rubab and they asked me to play for them the next night, so I did. They
paid me 250 Pakistani rupees [US$3]. That was a lot of money for us.” Despite the modernisation of music, the traditional
instruments and songs from Afghanistan and the region are still listened to by Kabul’s
young, and are even incorporated into current popular songs, obviously satisfying the taste
of contemporary Afghan listeners in ways that that purely western music cannot. Jeff Holden, with producer Syed Mansoor Alam
and photographer Samim Zalmi in Afghanistan, for NATOChannel.