It took me a while to appreciate how piercingly clear this album is. Every note is hung in the atmosphere like a meditation. Quaraishi, who plays under his surname, is a Kabul-born musician who moved from Afghanistan to the U.S. in 1982 to avoid the intolerable warfare between Soviets and mujahedeen. In exile, he has dedicated himself to the repertoire of the courtly rubab. The rubab is often partnered with a tabla in the kind of symbiotic relationship that most people will associate with tabla and sitar. And composition methods are in sympathy with the thinking behind an Indian raga. But the rubab has a more visceral, more banjolike sound than the sitar. No ethereal mist.
Exquisite, calm, unbudgeable, Quaraishi plucks his way through nine samples of ancient and modern folklore, some of it composed by himself. One track, “Wardagi”, is “a good example of the unique style in which the rubab is played in my father’s home province, Wardak. Rubab albums are unhappily very rare — disregard Quaraishi’s debut release in 2012 and the last significant recording to receive that much play in the English-speaking part of the world was Homayun Sakhi’s The Art of the Afghan Rubab in 2006 — so this is an event.