[9 January 2013]
It’s not always easy to find online information about very-dead musicians from non-English-speaking countries, but the Afghan Ahmad Zahir, who left this world on a snowy mountain pass in 1979 at the age of 33, has two websites, a Wikipedia biography, wallpapers, videos, dreamy shots of his face with its puffy flop of hair—the man is a bit of a phenomenon, and if this two-disc retrospective is a fair sample of his career then that career was amazing for quality as well as quantity. Zahir recorded 30 albums in 10 years and every song on this set is strong. The region’s folk and classical traditions are the core of his pop ballad repertoire but around that core he moves with the pan-cultural fluency of the filmi composers in nearby India, and with some of the same influences. His voice is lush and drowsy, he sings of love, he borrows lyrics from Persian poetry, he startles you by whistling like Kishore Kumar. A Spaghetti Western trumpet becomes proud. This would have been one of my albums of the year if I’d got to it sooner.