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An Afghan's Musical Gift to His Country - 2002-08-22

For some Afghans, the return of music to their homes and streets has been one of the happiest results of the end of the Taleban. In the United States, an Afghan immigrant named Quraishi has spent the last 15 years devoting himself to the study of a traditional Afghan musical instrument, the rubab. As Carolyn Weaver reports, he hopes to return to his country one day soon to sing and play for his fellow Afghans.

Quraishi left Afghanistan for New York City when he was a teenager, in 1982. Like many American teenagers, he cared then mainly for rock and roll. “I really liked Jimi Hendrix and Rod Stewart,” he remembers. “But I didn’t picture myself to be a rock star, and I’m glad I’m concentrating on the rubab, the Afghan version of rock and roll!”

As news of the Taleban government’s ban on art and music reached him in New York City, Quraishi became more and more interested in the ancient culture he had left behind. He put aside the guitar and began to study the rubab seriously. The rubab is Afghanistan’s national instrument, a short-necked lute made of mulberry wood and goatskin, with a complicated set of strings that produce a rich sound.

“I realized not many people play this instrument,” Qaraishi says, as he tunes one of several rubabs he keeps in his East Village apartment. “And the sound is amazing. This is my goal, to keep that tradition alive and make it popular again, to sing with this instrument.” He begins strumming and singing a folk song. “This is one of my own compositions,” he explains. “It’s about a little party going on in a place in the middle of nowhere. Someone is walking around far from this little house, and the people try to invite that stranger to come, and tell him, ‘whatever you’re seeking, it’s in this house.’”

Making a living as a folk artist isn’t easy, but Qaraishi is now devoting himself fulltime to Afghan music. At a concert at the Asia Society in New York this spring, Quraishi performed with three friends – who played the tabla drums, the harmonium and the flute. A traditional Afghan dancer joined them for one song. Quraishi says he makes sure to include songs from all parts of Afghanistan in his concerts. And he writes his own songs in both Afghan languages, as well. “Whenever I perform, I always keep the balance,” he says. “I sing both Pashto and Persian (Dari) songs. I love them both and they’re both nice poetries.”

Though audiences in the United States are appreciative, now that the Taleban have been deposed, Quraishi is anxious to return to Afghanistan as a musician. “That’s my plan,” he says, “to go back to Kabul and perform there, and give these people what I was doing all these years I was not there. Music is one of the things that brings people together,” he says, “and that brings peace.”