A celebrity of enduring popularity almost three decades after his death, Ahmad Zahir is considered as a legend and an icon of Afghan music. Born on June 14, 1946, he was the son of late Dr. Abdul Zahir (born 1910, in Laghman), who was an influential Afghan politician and a one time Afghan Prime Minister (1971-1972) during the reign of King Zahir Shah.
Ahmad Zahir attended Habibia High School in the early 1960s and his interest in music developed during this period where he often sang in his school concerts, accompanied by his band that was made up of mainly his friends and classmates: Nabil Miskinyar on drums, Omar Sultan on guitar, Farid Zaland on congas and Kabir Howaida on piano, as well as other talented musicians who would accompany him from time to time. He himself would mainly play the accordion as he sang. In one particular concert, during his school days, he sang so beautifully that his schoolmates declared him “Bulbul-e Habibia”. The band, which later became known as the Amateur Band of Habibia High School, gained popularity with their performances in local concerts during celebratory occasions such as Nouroz, Eid, and Afghan Independence Day.
After his graduation from high school he attended and graduated from Darul Malimeen (Teachers’ College) in Kabul. He continued his higher education for two more years in India to get his degree as an English instructor. But his true calling, of course, was to sing. With the approval and encouragement of his family he was able to pursue his true love of music. Rising from the acclaim of the band, Ahmad Zahir branched onto his solo career. Carrying his musical instincts to new heights, he began composing songs based on well-recognized Dari poems. The meaning and depth of his songs quickly garnered him national attention as did the tenor voice that was complementary to a wide range of musical notes. His first recorded song, gar kuni yak nizara, was also his own composition, sung in the pilo raga, which he had not been taught by anyone at that time. With this song he proved his God-given talent and true genius, at an early age, which the Almighty blessed him with. He continued composing and recording his future songs such as azeezam ba yaadat, ahista-ahista, akhir ay darya, hama yaranam, agar sabza boodam, guftam ke mekhwaham tura, shabe ze shabha, parween-e man and many more.
After a couple of years Ahmad Zahir married and his first and only son, Rishad was born. By this time he had already decided that he was simply not made for teaching, but that music was his true destiny. Besides teaching and his musical interests, at that time, he also held a job at Kabul Times as a journalist. But by this time his popularity had reached such a height that it was pretty clear to him and his family that he was born to sing. Unfortunately, as his popularity grew, his marriage was starting to fail and it resulted in a divorce.
Later on, he married his second wife, from whom he was expecting his second child. He had chosen the name Shabnam should it be a girl. By this stage in his life he was on top of the world. He had already been chosen singer of the year several times and he had recorded over 19 albums, each containing 12-16 new songs. Aside from his albums, he also had many hits on the national radio, not to mention a vast collection of his wonderful majlisi recordings. But his voice recordings were not the only means through which his vast pool of fans was able to listen to his enchanting voice. He also organized huge concerts in Kabul and other major cities of Afghanistan, leaving the most memorable impressions in the hearts of his fans. Throughout this adventurous journey of his life, he was able to make many friends and countless fans because of his great charisma, charm, and friendly personality.
With the changes in the political landscape of Afghanistan, Ahmad Zahir became conscious of the socio-political transformation of his homeland. He adjusted his tone and the contents of his music to reflect his feelings through his songs, such as zindagi akhir sar Ayed, bigzarad bigzarard, and safar bee roshenAyee. Such songs, which carried revolutionary lyrics and reflected the feelings of a patriotic artist, stirred enough controversy in the political realms, which would later cost him his life.
On his 33h birthday (June 14, 1979) he was assassinated by the order of a communist general named Daud Taroon who used one of Ahmad Zahir’s best friends as an accomplice to carry out his orders. Taroon was not only an envious and jealous enemy of Ahmad Zahir, but also because Ahmad Zahir’s political stance was at odds with the communist government of the time. Sadly, his precious Shabnam, whom he was eagerly looking forward to, would come into the world on the same day of his passing.
More than a quarter of a century after his death, his popularity remains strong among his fans. Many Afghans truly love him from the heart, whether it is the younger generation, born outside of Afghanistan, who can barely understand the lyrics of his music; or those who grew up during the heydays of Ahmad Zahir; or those who saw him live in-concert and in person; or whether it is the much older generation who are now more understanding and appreciative of his legendary work. Ahmad Zahir will continue to live in the hearts of his fans.
In the past 28 years, many talented artists and musicians have come and gone, but Ahmad Zahir’s voice, talent, fame, and charisma, has remained unrivaled. He remains a source of inspiration for new and aspiring artists and has rightfully earned the title of Afghanistan’s Nightingale. His legacy as the most celebrated musical phenomenon in Afghanistan and the embodiment of modern Afghan music goes on.