Mountain Melodies (Evergreen Music, 2014)
Human beings are extraordinary creatures. We are capable of such great works, dazzling creativity, boundless charity and dig-down-deep heroism. We are also ruthless and contentious. The question to any political debate, discussion of war or international always comes down to ‘Well, what is the answer?’ Perhaps the answer to many of our conflicts is music. Yes, I said music. What if instead of opening some somber meeting between two feuding sides is not some solemn anthem but some rousing folk tune.
It’s a little harder to hold on to your mad if you’ve gotten a healthy dose of a long-forgotten folk song from your childhood. It’s also more difficult to think badly of your enemy if you’re watching him tapping his foot and singing along to a popular tune. Can’t be an angry, anti-immigration shouter when you’re up against a Norteño band blasting out a chippy tune. Wouldn’t it be an advantage to know what Afghan folk song has the power to make a Taliban smile? Wouldn’t international affairs go more smoothly if you knew what cute, little song made Vladimir Putin giggle?
As with food and drink, music is a potent, powerful force to open the interior workings of a culture and people. Its ability to bridge gaps goes beyond language and mere words. It culls the human need for companionship, the sharing of sorrow and finding joy. And, let’s face it there’s nothing better for explaining who we are and what we are capable than music.
Bridging that gap of east and west and the understanding of the Afghan soul is the rubab (an ancient stringed instrument in the short-necked lute family) player Quraishi. His release Mountain Melodies out now on the Evergreen Music label is a delicious peak into the dulcet workings of Afghani music and Mr. Quraishi himself. Plucking out a collection of traditional Afghan folk tunes, classical ragas, compositions by Zaland and Ustad Sarahang, as well as showcasing three of his own compositions, Mr. Quraishi gives a listen into the music of his father’s native Wardak, Afghanistan and the songs he grew up listening to his father sang while playing the rubab.
Mr. Quraishi, now living in New York after emigrating from Kabul, introduces American music fans to the richness of Afghan music on Mountain Melodies by way of rubab and collaboration with tabla and dhol player Chatram Sahmi, tabla players Salim Khan and Heywad. Shimmering rubab draws listeners in with the opening track “Negaar,” and drawn in is indeed the word as this delicately elegant music fills the space. Equally delightful is the sweet folk of the Ustad Sarahang’s composition “Tears” with rubab and tabla. The raga “Kerwhani” is positively artful and powerful as rubab and tabla lines become more tightly entwined.
Other goodies include the Afghan folk tunes “Jun Garna” and “Chargul” and Mr. Quraishi’s own compositons of the intricately worked “Jananna” and the dazzlingly light “Heart.”
Mountain Melodies is a precious listen into Afghan music and the masterful Mr. Quaraishi makes the listen well worthwhile, because there’s just no way not to listen and find the true heart of the Afghan people. I’d say it’s another triumph and a blow to contentious curmudgeons everywhere.
Author: TJ Nelson
TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.
Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.
Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.