The region known in ancient times as Khorasan bequeathed a rich and diverse cultural heritage to human civilisation. Like all long-lived cultures, Khorasan’s geography expanded and constricted like a huge lung breathing art, beauty and elevated thought, spread across much of what today we call Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. So huge was its presence and vast its territory that Babur, the first Mughal, proclaimed, “The people of Hindustan call every country beyond their own Khorasan”.
Among the roll call of illustrious Khorasanis is an “A List” of poets, mystics, theologians and scientists: Rumi, Rudaki, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Omar Khayyam, al Biruni, Abu Hanifa and al Ghazali being just the more renowned. The contributions of these great souls to the understanding of astronomy, physics, literature, medicine, Islamic philosophy and mathematics, in many cases, formed the “standard texts” until relatively recent times.
Sometime around the 7th century CE, Persian texts including the writings of Sufis began to mention a musical instrument they called rubab. Its inventor and exact place of birth is not recorded, but given its undeniably Khorasani origin, I like to imagine the rubab was played for the first time in northern Afghanistan around Balkh. Others claim it was invented in Ghazni. Whatever the truth, the rubab is now the beloved national instrument of Afghanistan.
Although the name derives from Arabic and in that language means, “played with a bow”, the rubab is in fact, plucked by its player. And like its cousins the oud and lute, the sound of the rubab is for my money, one of the most thrilling in all of music.
Today we share a stunning performance by the great Ustad Mohammad Omar recorded live in the United States. This master of the rubab is largely responsible for introducing the sound of the rubab to American audiences which he did from his position at the University of Washington.
In Afghanistan his list of students is long and illustrious. Quite simply what we have here in the Afghan equivalent of Segovia.
Be moved and be happy. Be thankful that such music exists.
01 Shakal and naghma in the melodic mode of emen (yeman)
02 Shakal and naghma in the melodic mode of bopali (bhupali)
03 Tabla solo in the rhythmic cycle of jhaptal (10-beat cycle)
04 Shakal and naghma based on the melodic mode of pelo (pilu)
05 Keliwali in the melodic mode of kastori