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Ahmad Zahir

16 Sep 2018 National Radio TV of Afghanistan

Ahmad Zahir (Persian: احمد ظاهر‎, 14 June 1946 – 14 June 1979) was a singer, songwriter, and composer from Afghanistan. His songs are mostly in the Dari (Persian) language and are based on Persian poetry, although a few are also in Pashto.[1] Zahir was the first and only true mega superstar in Afghanistan as his appeal crossed all boundaries of age, class, language, and regions. Besides being a pioneer of rock and pop music in Afghanistan, in a similar style to Elvis Presley, he experimented and performed almost all styles of music, including Indian classical music, Iranian, Qarsak, Qataghani and Logari.

Among the people of Afghanistan, he is considered an icon of Afghanistan music and is widely regarded as the “King of Afghan music” or the “Elvis of Afghanistan”, and reclaims immortal fame due to his contributions and influence on music in Afghanistan.[2]

Early years[edit]

Zahir was born on 14 June 1946 (Jauza 24, 1325 of the Jalali calendar) in Kabul, Afghanistan. His father, Abdul Zahir, was a royal courtdoctor who served as minister of health and Prime Minister of Afghanistan between 1971 and 1972.[3] He was a speaker of the parliament and an influential figure in King Zahir Shah‘s era who helped write the 1964 Constitution of Afghanistan.[4] He was a Pashtunfrom Laghman Province.

Music career[edit]

Zahir attended Habibya High School in Kabul. There, he formed a band mainly consisting of his friends and classmates including Omar Sultan on guitar, Farid Zaland on congas and Akbar Nayab on piano. Zahir played the accordion and sang. The band later became known as the amateur band of Habibia High School and performed in local concerts during celebratory occasions like Nowruz, Eid ul-Fitr, and Afghan Independence Day.[5] Zahir gained considerable popularity in Kabul as a talented singer with a soulful voice. His baritone chest voice and evocative singing gave him the title of “Bulbul-e- Habibya (The Nightingale of Habibya).” However, due to familial pressures, Zahir still could not devote himself to music entirely.

He went on to attend and graduate from Daru’ l-Malimeen (“Teachers’ College”) in Kabul. He then continued his higher education for two more years in India to get a degree as an English instructor.

After his return from India, Zahir began work on his first album. He worked closely with Afghan composers Nainawaz and Taranasaz. His first recorded song, “Gar Kuni Yak Nizara”, was his own composition, blending Indian raga with western pop rhythms. He continued writing and recording songs such as “Azeezam Ba Yaadat”, “Ahista-ahista”, “Akhir Ay Darya”, “Hama Yaranam”, “Agar Sabza Boodam”, “Guftam Ke Mekhwaham Tura”, “Shabe Ze Shabha” and “Parween-e Man”.[5]

Zahir worked with mentors such as Ismail Azami (saxophonist), Nangalai (trumpeter), Abdullah Etemadi (drummer), and other musicians including Salim Sarmast, Nainawaz, Taranasaz and Mashour Jamal. He recorded over 22 albums in the 1970s. His songs were noted for their mellifluous tone, poetic style, compelling depth, and passionate emotional evocation.[citation needed] His lyrics covered a wide range of subjects. Many of his songs contained autobiographical elements or political criticism of Afghanistan’s government.[2] As a result, some of his recordings were destroyed by the government.

Zahir was on the scene of Afghan music for only 10 years at the most; yet, managed to record more than 30 albums. This was and is unique in any music industry around the world. All of these albums were successful and widely accepted (to this date) by everyone. The musicians managed to complete these recordings almost 40 years ago with almost no technology of today’s world, and all was done in live recordings.

A controversy regarding the relation between his song “Tanha Shodam Tanha” and Claude Morgan‘s song “El Bimbo” (1974) exists. Some sources date the song and the album “Lylee” on which it appeared to 1971,[6][7] which would make Morgan’s version a cover, and some (mostly based on a previous version of this article) date it to 1977, reversing the relationship.

Because of his musical family background, Zahir helped to establish music as a more respected profession which in turn led to the founding of The Kabul Music School in 1974.[8]


Zahir died on 14 June 1979, on his 33rd birthday. It was reported in the media that he died in a car accident around the Salang Tunnel. There are mixed views from critics regarding his death, with many claiming that he was assassinated as his political stance was at odds with the Marxist government of the time, lured out the city by a close friend and two female accompanies and subsequently murdered.[5] Some believe that his assassination was ordered by senior politician Hafizullah Amin, due to an affair between Zahir and Amin’s daughter.[9] A large crowd of mourners attended Zahir’s funeral in Kabul, clogging the city streets and bringing daily activities to a halt.[2] After his death, Zahir was considered a national hero.[10] His tomb was set for ruins by the Taliban in the late 1990s, but was rebuilt by loving fans years later.[11] It has been renovated as recently as 2018 by fans whom have established a foundation in his name in hopes of continuing his evergreen legacy.


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