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Ahmad Zahir

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Ahmad Zahir
احمد ظاهر
Birth nameAhmad Zahir
Born(1946-06-14)14 June 1946
Kabul, Afghanistan
Died14 June 1979(1979-06-14) (aged 33)
Salang Tunnel, Parwan/Baghlan, Afghanistan
  • Pop
  • traditional
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • composer
Years active1964–1979
WebsiteAhmad Zahir's Songs

Ahmad Zahir (Pashto/Dari: احمد ظاهر) (14 June 1946 – 14 June 1979) was an Afghan singer, songwriter, and composer.[1][2] The majority of his songs were sung in Dari, however he sang many songs in Pashto, as well as a few in Hindi, Russian, and English.[3][4]

Zahir is considered an icon of Afghan music.[5]

Early years

Ahmad Zahir was born on 14 June 1946 (Jauza 24, 1325 of the Jalali calendar) in Kabul to an ethnic Pashtun family. [6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13] His father, Abdul Zahir, was a royal court doctor who served as Minister of Health and Prime Minister of Afghanistan between 1971 and 1972. He was a speaker of the parliament and an influential figure who helped write the 1964 Constitution of Afghanistan under Mohammed Zahir Shah.


Zahir attended Habibia High School in Kabul, where he formed a band with his friends and classmates, with Omar Sultan on guitar, Farid Zoland 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.[14]

Zahir 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 obtain a degree as an English instructor.[15] After his return from India, Zahir got a job as a journalist for The Kabul Times,[16] but soon began to work closely with Afghan composers Nainawaz and Taranasazon. His first recorded song, "Gar Kuni Yak Nizara", was his own composition, blending Indian raga with western pop rhythms.[14]

Zahir worked with mentors such as saxophonist Ismail Azami, trumpeter Nangalai, drummer Abdullah Etemadi, and other musicians including Salim Sarmast, Nainawaz, Taranasaz, and Mashour Jamal. He recorded over 22 albums in the 1970s.[citation needed] Zahir was on the scene of Afghan music for only a decade, yet managed to record more than thirty albums.

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,[17][18] 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 in Afghanistan, which in turn led to the founding of The Kabul Music School in 1974.[19]

Following the Saur Revolution, Zahir criticized the leaders of the new socialist government in three songs,[20] modelling himself after one of his heroes, John Lennon, who used music for anti-war resistance in the West.[21][5]

Musical style and contributions

Zahir learned to play various musical instruments, including the harmonium, guitar, and accordion by the time he was 16 years old. His privileged and affluent background gave him the opportunity to travel and become exposed to the burgeoning musical revolution of the 1960s and 1970s occurring in the United States, Europe, and India. He was an avid listener of all genres of music and incorporated elements of western pop, rock, chanson, flamenco, and jazz, as well as Indian, Arab, Iranian, and Afghan folk into his songs.

Zahir's debut album was recorded with Radio Kabul. It is the first Afghan album that falls in the western genre of music, consisting mostly of pop songs.

Zahir's second album, also recorded with Radio Kabul, not only shot him to superstardom but was also hailed by critics as an artistic masterpiece. The album has a distinctly Afghan sound, unlike his first effort.

Other Zahir albums and songs mostly continue the musical style of this record. Zahir was one of the first Afghan musicians to cover songs by other artists. He covered a playback of the Indian film Bobby, which was a hit in Afghanistan at the time, as well as a number of Iranian songs[22][23] and even some Western hits, including by artists like Enrico Macias and Elvis Presley.[24][25]


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 some claiming that he was assassinated as his political stance was at odds with the government.[14] Others believe that he was murdered on the order of senior politician Hafizullah Amin, due to an affair between Zahir and Amin's daughter.[21][26] A large crowd of mourners attended Zahir's funeral in Kabul, clogging the city streets and bringing daily activities to a halt.[5]

He left behind a son, Rishad, from his marriage with his first wife, Najia. His daughter Shabnam Zahir, from his second wife, Fahira, was born the day Ahmad Zahir died.


After his death, Zahir was considered a national hero of the Afghan music industry.[27][28] His tomb was destroyed by the Taliban in the late 1990s, but was later rebuilt by loving fans.[29] It was renovated as recently as 2018 by fans who have established a foundation in his name in hopes of continuing his legacy.

Zahir was listed as one of 50 golden voices in history who have made their mark internationally, according to National Public Radio.[5][30]

The Academy Award-nominated American film director Sam French was tapped in 2018 to direct a documentary film about Zahir's life.[31][32]


Afghan music albums

  • Dilak am (1973)
  • Bahar (1973)
  • Shab ha ye zulmane (1974)
  • Mother (1974)
  • Awara (1975)
  • Ghulam-e Qamar (1975)
  • Sultan Qalbaam (1976)
  • Az Ghamat Hy Nazaneen (1976)
  • Gulbadaan (1971)
  • Yaare Bewafa (1977)
  • Lylee (1971)[17][18] or (1977)
  • Ahmad Zahir and Jila (1978)
  • Ahange Zindagee (1978)
  • Shab-e Hijraan (1979) (posthumous release)

Note: audio cassette versions of many of Zahir's Afghan music albums are missing some songs that are present on the original vinyl records.

Ariana music albums

  • Daard-e Dil (1972)
  • Mosum-e Gul (1977)

Note: The original Ariana music albums contain many hidden tracks.

Music center albums

  • Ashiq rooyat Mon (1973)
  • Neshe Gashdum (1976)
  • Lylee Jaan (1977)
  • Ahmad Zahir Ba Sitara Haa (1977)
  • To Baamanee (1978)


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Ahmad Zahir: The Enduring". Arwa Haider. BBC News. 6 December 2018. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "The 'Afghan Elvis': the extraordinary life of Ahmad Zahir". Monica Whitlock; BBC World Histories magazine. 4 July 2019. Retrieved 10 October 2019. He sang mostly in – Persian – but also in Urdu and English.
  5. ^ a b c d Inskeep, Steve (1 February 2010). "Ahmad Zahir: The Voice of the Golden Years". Morning Edition. Archived from the original on 4 May 2011. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  6. ^ "احمد ظاهر، الويس پريسلی افغانستان Ahmad Zahir: Elvis Presley of Afghanistan". BBC Persian. 6 December 2003.
  7. ^ "احمد ظاهر ولې پښتو سندرې کمې ویلې دي؟ Why Did Ahmad Zahir Sing Less Pashto Songs?". BBC Pashto. 13 June 2018.
  8. ^ "احمد ظاهر یو لیجنډ سندرغاړی Ahmad Zahir: A Legendary Singer". Haroon Bacha. Mashaal Radio. 23 October 2016.
  9. ^ "Kabul Journal; The Afghan Elvis 'Lives' 24 Years After His Death". Amy Waldman. New York Times. 20 March 2003.
  10. ^ "'Evergreen': Afghan Elvis's legacy endures, decades after death". Wakil Khosar. Al Jazeera. 10 October 2019.
  11. ^ "Pilgrims flock to Kabul to pay tribute to the Afghan Elvis". James Astill. The Guardian. 27 November 2003.
  12. ^ "Afghan Singer's Legacy Continues At Home And Abroad". Mustafa Sarwar. Gandhara. 29 October 2018.
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b c Maiwandi, Farid. "Ahmad Zahir – A biography in brief (in the words of his son – Rishad Zahir)". Retrieved 19 November 2010. Archived 22 October 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Ahmad Zahir: The Voice of Afghanistan".
  17. ^ a b SpeedyLook Encyclopedia. "Ahmad Zahir".
  18. ^ a b "Afghan Music Vol.11 Lylee"
  19. ^ Emadi, Hafizullah (2005). Culture and customs of Afghanistan. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 105. ISBN 0-313-33089-1.
  20. ^ "Biography".[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ a b
  22. ^ RaazeCmorgh (20 March 2012), Aref - Soltan e Ghalbha (Old Version) عارف - سلطان قلبها, retrieved 18 October 2017
  23. ^ RaazeCmorgh (4 November 2011), Mahasti - Bache Nasho Ey Del مهستی - بچه نشو ای دل, retrieved 18 October 2017
  24. ^ AhmadZahirChannel (19 January 2012), Ahmad Zahir - Ay Gulozare Man Bagh O Bahare Man- Radio Vol 1, retrieved 18 October 2017
  25. ^ karim elhousni (9 April 2012), Enrico Macias - Enfants de Tous Pays - Lyrics, retrieved 18 October 2017
  26. ^ "Ahmad Zahir's death anniversary observed in Kabul". 13 June 2016.
  27. ^ Hainard, Jacques; Pierre Centli vres; Roland Kaehr (1997). Dire les autres: réflexions et pratiques ethnologiques: textes offerts à Pierre Centlivres (in French). Éditions Payot. p. 107. ISBN 2-601-03221-9.
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Elvis lives, in Persian". 4 December 2003 – via The Economist.
  30. ^ "50 Great Voices".
  31. ^ "مصاحبه با فلم‌ساز امریکایی که در بارۀ احمد ظاهر فلم می‌سازد" – via
  32. ^

External links