Mahwash & Ensemble Kaboul | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Mahwash & Ensemble Kaboul 

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The U.S. military's rout of the Taliban in 2001 scarcely restored Afghanistan to peace and prosperity, but some things have changed for the better. One of the first images the media brought us after the fall of the fundamentalist Islamic regime was that of Afghans listening to music--a thing forbidden by the mullahs, who destroyed instruments and imprisoned musicians. Even with a new government in power, however, some of Afghanistan's finest performers still practice their art in exile, notably the Geneva-based Ensemble Kaboul and singer Farida Mahwash, who's lived in LA since 1992. The ensemble is led by Khaled Arman, a master of Afghanistan's lutelike national instrument, the rubab. After studying classical guitar in Prague, Arman settled in Geneva, where he was joined by his father and first music teacher, harmonium player Hossein Arman; together they established the ensemble in 1995 to preserve their endangered national traditions. On the group's superb new album, Radio Kaboul (Accords Croises), they are joined by Mahwash, who until her exile was one of the country's most acclaimed singers--in 1977 she became the first woman to be recognized by the government as an "Ustad," an honorific meaning "master musician." The album's title pays homage to the national radio station that in its heyday in the 1960s and '70s played an important role in binding together the country's diverse ethnic groups, broadcasting a mixture of Indian, Western, and indigenous classical music, Pashtun and Iranian folk songs, and Bollywood pop. The music on the album is a correspondingly polyglot assortment of ghazals (poetic love songs), folk tunes, and Afghan classical music, which shares some of the modes and ragas of its Indian counterpart. It's a gorgeously recorded program, and you won't get many chances to hear the real thing live, particularly from such heavyweight musicians. The concert is free. Thursday, November 13, 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Pascal Lafay.

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