Afghanistan Untouched
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Various Artists
Afghanistan Untouched
Traditional Crossroads (www.traditionalcrossroads.com)

cd cover Sometimes, timing is everything. In Mark Slobin's case, his fieldwork excursion in Afghanistan from 1967-1972 happened at a fortuitous time, ethnomusically and politically speaking. This was prior to the overthrow of Zahir Shah, an event which set off the domino line of upheavals leading to the war and unrest of the last couple of years. Before 1973, it was possible to record the music of Afghanistan's numerous cultural groups before they were scattered by the winds of war and displacement.

Listen!
This two-CD set contains samples of the music of seven of the country's linguistic groups, including dance music, ballads, lullabies, wedding songs, and solo instrumental pieces. Disc one is devoted entirely to Tajik and Uzbek music. Disc two is more disparate, with examples of Hazara, Pashtun, Herati, Kazakh, and Turkmen music. Each group has its distinct style, instruments, and repertoire, with little cross-over. Long-necked, plucked lutes such as the dambura, the dombra, and the dutar have their place in almost all of the cultures represented. Fiddles, drums, flutes, and percussion such as stones and bells are more common in some areas than in others. On most tracks, the recording quality is good, but as with any field recording, background noise and tape recorder glitches happen.

Slobin's annotations are informative and, just as importantly, readable. Each track is described concisely but thoroughly, placing the music in its context and describing the instruments. He writes about the challenges of recording wary villagers, and describes numerous occasions where music is played. The social standing of musicians in Afghanistan, either amateur or professional, was not very high at that time. Slobin writes that some of the names given by informants may have been pseudonyms, so reluctant were musicians to identify themselves as such. Excellent, expressive photographs accompany the text, taken by Slobin himself.

Afghanistan Untouched is a valuable record of a place and a time that are lost to the ravages of history. Slobin is to be commended for his work. - Peggy Latkovich

Note: The record label pledges that $1.00 from every CD sold will go directly to the International Red Cross and The School for Hope in Afghanistan. Available from cdRoots


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