Monday, December 28, 2009

Ahmad Zahir, the Afghan Elvis

"The Afghan Elvis 'Lives' 24 Years After His Death," by Amy Waldman, New York Times, March 20, 2003. the real Elvis, to whom, with his black hair, sideburns and wide-collared shirts, he bore passing resemblance, his popularity has endured, his legend magnified...

the singer set great Persian poets like Rumi, Hafiz, Maulana Jami; the Afghan poet Khalilullah Khalili; and traditional folkloric songs, to music. He sang of love, pain and God. Never formally trained as a musician, he played the accordion, the piano, the organ, and the guitar and he absorbed the Western music spilling from radios in the 1960's and 70's. Some songs sound, instrumentally at least, vaguely like the Beatles or surf music.

He recalls a freer prewar Afghanistan when girls could rush the stage to grab his half-drunk soda, when women named a popular dress fabric ''Hair of Ahmad Zahir.''

He also reflects an Afghanistan that was far less ethnically polarized than it is today. An ethnic Pashtun who sang mostly in Dari, he won fans in all ethnic groups...

Mr. Zahir died in 1979 on his 33rd birthday. He was ostensibly killed in a car accident, but no one here believes there was anything accidental about it. Some say he was murdered by the family of his first wife [the NYT subsequently ran a correction, the rumor was about wife #2] in revenge for her death; after an unhappy marriage, he had been accused of her murder and briefly jailed.

Others say he refused to sing at the wedding of the Afghan Communist prime minister's daughter and paid with his life. Mr. Muhammad subscribed to this version but added the perhaps crucial detail that Mr. Zahir had chosen a song that displeased the Communists by suggesting that Afghanistan was living in slavery.

Zahira Zahir [Ahmad's sister] said the truth was simple and sordid. He was too independent for the Communists. They lured him out of Kabul, then shot him in the head.

I can't find anything on youtube that even vaguely suggests a stylistic connection to Elvis. I guess it's mainly the sideburns. And maybe the fact that Zahir died not too long after Elvis? However, Zahir put out 22 albums, so maybe someday I'll find those songs that sound vaguely like the Beatles or surf music.

No comments: