CD reviews: The Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan

The Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan RGNET, £14.99 *****

SIMON Broughton found the perfect time to nip into Afghanistan to make his documentary about the renaissance of music in 2002, before security deteriorated. As the West prepares to leave the country to the warlords once more, he has found the perfect moment to release this excellent compilation, which may – alas – stand as a valediction.

As he points out, the country, at the crossroads of three ancient civilisations, is unified by music (if unified by anything at all), and there is indeed a strong character running through everything? here, whether simple village sounds or hi-tech pop.

Here is the wonderful Mahwash, smouldering with passion as she sings a Sufi song; here is "Afghan Elvis" Ahmad Zahir, killed in a mysterious car crash 30 years ago, but still lovingly listened to; here are three of the greatest players of the darkly resonant rubab, Afghanistan's national instrument. Broughton's coup has been to capture lengthy footage of a leading qawwali group which provides the bonus CD; most of the tracks here are taken from existing discs, but are well chosen. My favourites offer authentically raw village sounds, one from a Hazara singer from the land where the Bamiyan Buddhas were built; the other from Badakshan, high – and for much of the time inaccessible – in the Pamir mountains.

Those wanting to hear more of Badakshan's irresistibly passionate music should acquire a CD I have praised before in these columns: Badakshan Ensemble, Smithsonian Folkways. But meanwhile, congratulations to Broughton, who has done a very necessary job. Let's hope it fuels the Afghans' hope, as they struggle to establish a workable society.