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Homayoun Sakhi & Salar Nader

Afghan rubâb and tabla
San Francisco Bay Area, California

Danny Paisley & The Southern GrassThe evocative music of Homayoun Sakhi and Salar Nader tells a story of hope and perseverance, both of the Afghan people and of their traditional music. Like so many others, their families fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and the years of Taliban control; in so doing they took their musical traditions to new places, both geographical—making a home in the United States—and metaphorical, as their music rubbed shoulders with contemporary sounds. Individually and together, Sakhi and Nader have become two of the defining artists in Afghan music today.

Afghan traditional music is a hybrid that reflects the country’s position at the confluence of Persian, Central Asian, and Indian cultures. The national instrument is the rubâb, a double-chambered, fretted lute. Originally a folk instrument believed to have originated in the mountainous Pakistani borderlands, the rubâb is a close relative of the Persian tar and Tibetan danyen. The main accompaniment in this tradition is provided by the tabla, which arrived from India along with the musicians hired to entertain the court of Amir Sher Ali Khan in the 1860s. These performers settled in Kharâbat, which became the musicians’ district of Kabul, and the birthplace of Afghan classical music.

Born in Kabul in 1976, Homayoun Sakhi is widely recognized as the finest rubâb player of his generation, described by Smithsonian Folkways as “a brilliant virtuoso endowed with a charismatic musical presence and personality.” Although his father, Ghulam Sakhi, was a rubâb master, young Homayoun initially chose other instruments, feeling the rubâb was old-fashioned. One day he overheard the playing of his father’s teacher (and brother-in-law), the revered Ustad Mohammed Omar. “It had an almost transcendental effect on me,” Homayoun recalled. “The way he was playing—the sound of the music, at that early hour of the morning—it touched my soul.” Embarrassed he had resisted his father’s wish to teach him, Homayoun began to study the rubâb in secret. Luckily, his ruse was discovered, and at the advanced age of ten, father and son began a traditional ustâd-shâgird (master-apprentice) relationship.

In 1992 the family took refuge from the turmoil in their home country in Peshawar, Pakistan, joining a large community of Afghans in exile. There Homayoun developed his skills as a performer, composer, and teacher at Khalil House, an apartment building that became a hotbed of Afghan musical innovation. Invited to play in the United States in 1998, Homayoun was struck by the enthusiasm that Americans of all backgrounds had for his music; in 2001 he relocated to Fremont, California, home of the largest Afghan community in the United States. There he devotes himself to teaching, while maintaining a performing schedule that has brought his masterful, boundary-expanding interpretation of Afghan traditional music to worldwide acclaim.

Salar Nader is one of Afghan music’s leading young percussionists. He was born in 1981 in Hamburg, Germany, to parents who had fled the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. When he was five, his family relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, and at age seven he began to study tabla. When Salar was only 12, he was already so accomplished that his teacher, the legendary tabla master Ustad Zakir Hussain, took the extraordinary step of initiating him through the ghandavand ceremony—the tying of a red thread that has been ritually blessed around the student’s hand, joining teacher and student for life—an honor that typically comes only after many years of study. Today Salar is himself a sought-after teacher of tabla in the Afghan and Indian modes; he also combines his exemplary traditional training with finely honed jazz skills to create a rich fusion music. Salar and Homayoun have an ongoing collaboration in today’s foremost Afghan ensemble, the U.S.-based Sounds and Rhythms of Afghanistan (SARA), which has brought traditional Afghan music around the world—including back to Afghanistan itself, as Afghans rebuild their country and their musical legacy.

Presented in collaboration with the Aga Khan Music Initiative, a program of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

Aga Khan Trust for Culture Music Initiative

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