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World Music CD Reviews Middle East & North Africa

THE AFGHAN ENSEMBLE

By Paul-Emile Comeau

Songs from Afghanistan
ARC

The Afghan Ensemble is a group that features Zohreh Jooya, a singer who was raised in eastern Iran, which is close to Afghanistan, and Madjid Derakhshani, another Iranian who worked with her on a recent album of music based on the Persian mystics. Four other musicians round out the group, a few of whom also have roots in both Afghanistan and European musical styles, as does Jooya, who is also an opera singer. Hamid Golestani shares some of the vocals with Jooya and also plays harmonium. Most of the twelve songs on this album date from the first half of the last century and the musicians perform them as they would have been played originally. The repertoire, mostly urban, has multi-layered meanings and includes ghazals, qawwali, and folk songs. One song, "Molla Mamadjan," is practically Afghanistan's national anthem. The ensemble's music isn't as passionate or as authentic as some of the best field recordings from that country but it's a respectable effort and one that is timely considering the international attention that the country has garnered in recent years.