Ahmad Zahir

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Ahmad Zahir
Birth name Ahmad Toryalai Zahir
Also known as Afghanistan's Bulbul
Born (1946-06-14)14 June 1946
Kabul, Afghanistan
Died 14 June 1979(1979-06-14) (aged 33)
Salang Tunnel, Parwan/Baghlan, Afghanistan
Genres Rock, pop, classic
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter, composer
Instruments Harmonium, piano, accordion, acoustic guitar
Years active 1967–1979
Labels Afghan Music, Aj Musik, EMI, Music Center

Ahmad Zahir (Persian: احمد ظاهر‎‎ – Aḥmad Zāhir; 14 June 1946 – 14 June 1979) was a singer, songwriter, and composer from Afghanistan. Among his fans, he is considered an icon of Afghan music and is sometimes called the "King of Afghan music and Afghan Star Elvis". His songs are mostly in Dari Persian and based on Persian poems, although a few are in Pashto.[1] Zahir composed and performed rock and pop music, in a similar style to Elvis Presley. Today, he is regarded as one of the greatest persons in Afghan culture and history.[2]

Early years[edit]

Zahir was born on 14 June 1946 (Jauza 24, 1325 of the Jalali calendar) in Kabul, Afghanistan, to a Pashtun family from Laghman. His father, Abdul Zahir, was a royal court doctor 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]

Music career[edit]

Zahir attended Habibia High School in Kabul in the early 1960s. He sang and played the accordion in a band mainly consisting of his friends and classmates including Omar Sultan on guitar, Nabil Miskinyar drum, Farid Zaland on congas and Akbar Nayab on piano. 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]

He later attended and graduated from Daru' l-Malimeen ("Teachers' College") in Kabul, then continued his higher education for two more years in India to get a degree as an English instructor. Eventually, however, he decided that music was his true calling. Zahir began his solo career composing songs based on well-recognized Persian poems. His first recorded song, "Gar Kuni Yak Nizara", was his own composition, sung in the pilu raga. 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, Naynawaz, Taranasaz, and Mas'hour 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 many of his recordings were destroyed by the government.

Zahir was on the scene of Afghan music for only 10 years at the most; however, Zahir 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. It is said the kings recorded his Arian Music Album 1 in one day, that had more than 12 songs. Zahir only recorded two music videos during his career.

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.


Zahir died on 14 June 1979, on his 33rd birthday. It was reported in the news that he died in a car accident around the Salang Tunnel. There are mixed views from critics regarding his death, some claim that he was assassinated. Zahir's political stance was at odds with the Marxist government of the time.[5] 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 became somewhat of a national hero and his image was mythologized by many Afghan people.[8] Because of his privileged 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.[9]


Afghan music albums[edit]

  • Vol. 1 – Dilak am (1973)
  • Vol. 2 – Bahar (1973)
  • Vol. 3 – Shab ha ye zulmane (1974)
  • Vol. 4 – Mother (1974)
  • Vol. 5 – Awara (1975)
  • Vol. 6 – Ghulam-e Qamar (1975)
  • Vol. 7 – Sultan Qalbaam (1976)
  • Vol. 8 – Az Ghamat Hy Nazaneen (1976)
  • Vol. 9 – Gulbadaan (1971)
  • Vol. 10 – Yaare Bewafa (1977)
  • Vol. 11 – Lylee (1971)[6][7] or (1977)
  • Vol. 12 – Ahmad Zahir and Jila (1978)
  • Vol. 13 – Ahange Zindagee (1978)
  • Vol. 14 – 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[edit]

  • Vol. 1 – Daard-e Dil (1972)
  • Vol. 2 – Mosum-e Gul (1977)

Note: The original Ariana Music record albums contain many hidden tracks.

Music center albums[edit]

  • Vol. 1 – Ashiq rooyat Mon (1973)
  • Vol. 2 – Neshe Gashdum (1976)
  • Vol. 3 – Lylee Jaan (1977)
  • Vol. 4 – Ahmad Zahir Ba Sitara Haa (1977)
  • Vol. 5 – To Baamanee (1978)

Private albums[edit]

  • Shamali
  • Hindi Songs
  • Afghanistan Songs
  • Agar Bahar Byayad
  • Ahmad Zahir & Nainawaaz
  • Almase-Sharq
  • Gulhaayi-Jawedan
  • Gulhayi Nafaramoshshuda
  • Khateraha
  • Khudaat-Medani Guleman
  • Laily-Laily-Jan
  • Raaze-Penhan
  • Soorodhayie-Jawedan
  • Yaad-Mandaha
  • Zindani

Other discography information[edit]

  • He has over 10 private recording albums from 1965–1978.
  • He only recorded 2 music videos in Radio Kabul TV: "Laylee Jaan" in 1976 and "Khuda Buwat Yarret" in 1977.
  • Zahir recorded several songs in Radio Kabul and Radio Afghanistan studios which later came out as albums. Eight of these albums have been released.


  1. ^ Ahmad Zahir
  2. ^ a b c 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. 
  3. ^ Baily, John. "Afghan music before the war". Mikalina.com. Archived from the original on 4 November 2005. Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  4. ^ Baily, John (2003). Can you stop the birds singing?: the censorship of music in Afghanistan. Freemuse. p. 18. ISBN 87-988163-0-6. Retrieved 4 April 2012. The singer Ahmad Zahir is a good example of the process. He was from an aristocratic family (Zahir), and his father, Dr Zahir, was for a short time Prime Minister. 
  5. ^ a b c Maiwandi, Farid. "Ahmad Zahir – A biography in brief (in the words of his son – Rishad Zahir)". Ahmadzahir.com. Retrieved 19 November 2010.
  6. ^ a b SpeedyLook Encyclopedia. "Ahmad Zahir".
  7. ^ a b RateYourMusic.com "Afghan Music Vol.11 Lylee"
  8. ^ Hainard, Jacques; Pierre Centlivres; 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. 
  9. ^ Emadi, Hafizullah (2005). Culture and customs of Afghanistan. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 105. ISBN 0-313-33089-1. 

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