Ahmad Zahir: Biography, Songs & Poems

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

Ahmad Zahir was a musical icon in Afghanistan who reached the height of his popularity in the early 1970's. This lesson will discuss his start, his career, his personal life, and his death.

A Music Icon

Step aside Elvis, there is a new act in town. At least, there was for Afghanistan in the 1970s. Ahmad Zahir became a music icon and voice of the people in a calmer time in Afghanistan's history. Ahmad Zahir was a treasured singer and composer who made over thirty albums, had hit after hit on the radio stations, and gave sold out concerts all over Afghanistan. Let's take a look at his life in more detail.

Young Years

In 1946 Ahmad Zahir was born into the influential world of his father, Dr. Abdul Zahir, who served as Prime Minister of Afghanistan from 1971-1972. Zahir found his love of music when his father brought him a mandolin from one of his many trips. He loved playing the mandolin, and soon mastered the accordion, the harmonium, and the organ. He played and sang for anyone who came to visit.

Zahir went to Hibibia High School where he performed his first song. It was called, 'Ay Bulbuli Shorida,' and after that performance his classmates called him, 'Bulbul-e-Habibia,' which means Nightingale of Hibibia. He and a group of his friends formed a band while they were still in high school, and they named themselves 'Amateurs of Hibibia.'

After high school, Zahir went to the Teachers College in Kabul. When Zahir 's father became the ambassador to India, he traveled with him to continue his studies in English instruction. When he returned to Afghanastan, he worked for newspapers, but his heart was in his love for music.

Rise to Fame

Zahir was heavily influenced by Fazel Ahmad Zekria, or 'Naynawaz' as he was called. Fazel was a famous Afghan singer and composer, and when Zahir met him, his world as a musician opened up. Zahir used compositions from people like Zekria, but he also created his own hits. He took music from a wide variety of composers from varied cultures like American, French, Indian and tailored them to fit his lyrics.

He was not afraid to use a variety of instruments to make music that was sensational and new. He was a fan favorite almost overnight.

Many of his songs were based on Dari poems that were well known, but Zahir set them to Western music. He read the great Persian poets and put their words to music; he also used Afghan folklore as the basis for some of his songs. His style of song reached the people because there was familiarity and because he infused a Western beat.

His tenor voice allowed for a wide range, and the tonal quality he achieved along with the depth of his lyrics fueled the national response. There are many people who have said that the response to Zahir was similar to the response to Elvis. The crowds went wild.

Personal Life

During the early part of his career, he married and his son, Rashid, was born, but as his life as a national sensation grew, his marriage could not be maintained. He married a second time and was expecting another child. Life for him was good.

No matter how famous he got, his was a kind and gentle man who loved his mother and was devoted to her. There was a point in his life when he was imprisoned, but for what is unclear. While he was in prison, his mother died. He was allowed to attend the funeral, and shortly after that, he was released and all the charges were dropped.

Zahir was a generous man, and there are legends of his kindness. One such story tells of a time he was on the way to a picnic but gave a beggar he passed all his food. Others saw him as a knight in shining armor, fighting for the people.

Influential Career

Ahmad Zahir made over thirty album and made 'Singer of the Year' many times. His stardom happened during happier times for Afghanistan--before the wars, before the tragedies, before the Taliban. Some of his songs were quite explicit, and some people were offended, but there were many who felt he was speaking truth about things that were not normally talked about.

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