Ahmad Zahir | Songs, Biography & Poems

Kaitlin Garcia, Susan Nagelsen
  • Author
    Kaitlin Garcia

    Kaitlin has a PEL and B.A. in Secondary English Education. She has taught various Honors English courses and tutors undergraduate students in writing.

  • Instructor
    Susan Nagelsen

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

Learn about Afghanistan’s Ahmad Zahir, his music, his popularity, and his legacy. Also, see a list of Ahmad Zahir songs and read about his musical style. Updated: 02/15/2022

Ahmad Zahir: Overview

Ahmad Zahir was an Afghan singer-songwriter who gained popularity due to his unique style. Dubbed the Elvis of Afghanistan, Zahir is regarded as the all-time greatest singer of Afghanistan and is viewed as an icon. He sang in Dari and Pashto, bringing song to traditional poetry, and complemented this tradition with Western influences. As an era of wartime was beginning to rise in Afghanistan, Zahir focused on themes of peacetime and sang of social and political issues such as poverty and justice. Due to his generosity, Zahir is still beloved and considered influential by many.

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.

Ahmad Zahir: Biography

Ahmad Zahir lived during a time of significant change in Afghanistan. In the 1940s and 1950s, the King, who Zahir's father worked closely with, experimented with broadening political freedom. With the push of modernization, the 1964 Afghanistan Constitution was formed which included a bill of rights. This was quickly followed by the inauguration of the first non-royal prime minister. As the country's relationships improved, they began to modernize.

Ahmad Zahir's career peaked at a time when Afghanistan was experiencing civil wars and dealing with post-Cold War conflict. This led to the rise of the Taliban which meant a strict government and the reversal of much of the modernization and rights from the '40s and '50s.


Ahmad Zahir was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he has a lasting legacy.

Kabul, Afghanistan is the birth place of Ahmad Zahir


The Early Life of Ahmad Zahir

Ahmad Zahir was born in Kabul, Afghanistan to an influential Pashtun family. When he was young, his father, Dr. Abdul Zahir, served as the Minister of Health and the Prime Minister of Afghanistan from 1971-1972. Dr. Abdul Zahir was an influential figure who worked closely with the King as a royal court doctor and a speaker of parliament. He even contributed to writing Afghanistan's Constitution in 1964, earning his family a great deal of respect.

During one of his father's travels, he brought Ahmad Zahir a mandolin, which began his love for music. Very quickly, Zahir picked up the accordion, harmonium, and organ, and played nonstop. Zahir performed his first song as a teenager at Habibia High School, called Ay Bulbuli Shorida, and received much praise from his classmates for it. Afterwards, his peers nicknamed him, Bulbul-e-Habibia, meaning Nightingale of Habibia. He then created a band with some of his school friends called Amateurs of Habibia.


Ahmad Zahir was called Bulbul-e-Habibia (translated to Nightingale of Habibia) due to his baritone voice and soulful songs.

Illustrated nightingale, which Ahamd Zahir was nicknamed after


However, he could not focus on this passion due to family pressure to pursue a traditionally respected career. Zahir graduated from the Teacher's College in Kabul and eventually received a degree in English Educator. He began working as a journalist for The Kabul Times, but decided to start working on his album to pursue his passion.

The Career of Ahmad Zahir

Although Zahir's popularity began with his high school band, his career skyrocketed when he composed his first recorded song, Gar Kuni Yak Nizara. Composed by himself, Zahir blended Western pop rhythms and Indian raga, bringing a new sound to Afghanistan music. He worked with a wide range of composers and musicians which exposed him to more styles he could adapt to his own.

With over 30 albums, he was named Singer of the Year numerous times. His tenor voice was known for its soulful depth, and his sound was intoxicating. His ability to draw huge crowds that would scream and rush the stage, led many to call him Afghanistan's Elvis. Like Elvis, Zahir was controversial for some. Some of his lyrics were explicit, like in his song Tura Afsoon, in which he sings, I will so intoxicate you that you will know the meaning of intoxication. These lyrics offended some, but were supported by others for not being afraid to talk about taboo topics.


Zahir was called The Elvis of Afghanistan due to popularity and ability to draw mass crowds.

Image of Elvis


But, as political tensions began to rise following the Saur Revolution as communists began to take over the government, Zahir used his platform to draw attention to political and social issues. He began to sing songs about poverty and justice, which were relatable to his fans. He also lived the life he preached. There are stories of fans seeing him on the streets, giving his food to the homeless. He even funded The Kabul Music School in 1974 to help make music more respected and widely accessible. His kindness led him to be somewhat of a hero for his fans who viewed him as somebody who fought for them. However, these songs received pushback from the government.

The Death of Ahmad Zahir

Ahmad Zahir died on June 14, 1979, on his 33rd birthday and the day of his daughter's birth, but the situation surrounding his death is unclear. The official account is that Zahir died in a car accident in the Salang Tunnel in Afghanistan; this account was broadcast in the news. However Zahir's family and critics believe he was assassinated for his political views. Zahir was known for not being afraid to speak out against the Marxist government that was in power at the time. Since Zahir wrote songs about poverty and justice, and made it his mission to stand up for others, his popularity was a problem for the government in power. This is because they didn't like his influence. Zahir's son claims he was assassinated for speaking out against the Marxist regime. His sister believes he was lured by a female friend to be shot and killed by Communists.

Either way, Zahir left behind a long-lasting legacy and still inspires singers today. Known for his generosity, he was a role model for everyday people and singers alike. On the day of his funeral, schools shut down and thousands of mourners followed his procession. His grave was widely visited, until the Taliban took over.

Ahmad Zahir: Songs and Style

Zahir's unique style blended traditional, regional poems and content, with Western-style music. Some of the cultures which influenced and were modeled by Zahir's music are:

  • Popular and well-known Dari poems
  • Adaptations of classic Persian poems
  • Afghan folklore
  • American anti-war lyrics like John Legend
  • Western pop, rock, and jazz beats
  • Spanish Flamenco beats
  • European belle chanson

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.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Additional Info

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.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Ahmad Zahir from?

Ahmad Zahir was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. He has had a long-lasting legacy in Afghanistan and is considered an icon who is fundamental in the country's musical history.

Where is Ahmad Zahir buried?

The tomb Of Ahmad Zahir is located at The Shohada-E-Salehin Cemetery In Kabul, Afghanistan. Although his tomb was destroyed by the Taliban, it was later rebuilt in the late 1990s by his fans.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account