A lot of people don't realize that there is a lot more to Afghanistan than the Taliban and endless war. Although the diverse Afghan population has contributed to the country's well-documented instability, such heterogeneity has also produced a remarkably rich cultural heritage that reflects its location as a crossroads for numerous civilizations throughout history. I believe that a certain degree of suffering is unfortunately necessary for music that is truly emotionally resonant. Since many people in Afghanistan are no strangers to misery, it is no wonder that they have contributed a number of compelling artists to the world music scene.

Aziz Herawi arguably personifies the multifaceted nature of Afghan music better than any other performer from his homeland. He originally hails from Herat, a city with a historically strong Iranian influence and home to a noted Persian cultural renaissance that reached its apex sometime around the 15th century. Due to its location, the music of this region - and especially that of Aziz Herawi - displays characteristics of both the Indian raga and the Persian dastgah modal systems.

Although the tracks on this CD display a superficial resemblance to the works of Hindustani artists like Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, one of the things that sets them apart is their relative brevity. The fascinating booklet notes by David Roche posit that this may have resulted from "the length of the imported Persian and Hindustani 78 rpm records that were prized by the patron class in the first decades of the (20th) century.'' As the title of Master of Afghani Lutes suggests, Aziz Herawi is a virtuoso on two instruments, the long-necked 14-string dutar, a hybridized version of its Persian antecedent designed to sound more like a Pashtun tanbur, and the short-necked rebab, which has up to 18 strings and is considered to be an earlier version of the Indian sarod.

In the early 1980s, the war between Soviet forces and the mujahidin resistance necessitated Aziz Herawi's departure. He ended up in California, where he became a popular figure in the Afghan expat community and eventually earned the attention of world music aficionados. The performances on this disc were recorded at live performances from 1992 in Concord and Berkeley. "Naghmaha -Ye Klasik In Rag Beiru" is a five-part suite on which Aziz Herawi plays dutar and is accompanied by Ghulam Abbas Khan on tabla. This composition displays tremendous variety with its sections variously focusing on improvisation, dance music, and a love ballad. "Aushari," "Naghma I," "Mahali I," "Khandan-E Amaturi I," "Khandan-E Amaturi II," and "Khandan-E Amaturi III" again find The Master of Afghani Lutes on dutar joined by the same tabla player in addition to Azim Mojaddidi on daira zangi, an instrument similar to the tambourine, which gives the pieces additional rhythmic texture. Aziz Herawi switches over to rebab on "Naghma-Ye Klasik In Rag Pari," "Naghma-Ye Klasik In Rag Pilu," "Mahali II," "Naghma II," and Naghma III and is backed once more by the tabla of Ghulam Abbas Khan while Anayat Habibi replaces Azim Mojaddidi on daira zangi. On what is perhaps the most distinctive track on this CD, "Mahali III" features the same musicians on rebab and daira zangi as well as Omar Mojaddidi on zirbaghali, a more traditional Afghan goblet-shaped hand drum, in place of tabla.

Tracklist:

1. Jhaptal / Dadra
2. Kaharwa
3. Kaharwa / Dadra
4. Charbeiti Kaharwa
5. Kaharwa / Dadra II
6. Aushari
7. Naghma I
8. Mahali I
9. Khandan-E Amaturi I
10. Khandan-E Amaturi II
11. Khandan-E Amaturi III
12. Naghma-Ye Klasik In Rag Pari
13. Naghma-Ye Klasik In Rag Pilu
14. Mahali II
15. Mahali III
16. Naghma II
17. Naghma III