5. The 'naghma-ye kashal' as a musical genre

When many years ago I started researching into Afghan music I soon became captivated by a certain genre of multi-part instrumental music but could not discover its name except that it was described as 'classical'. By 1976 I found three names for the genre: lariya (instrumental piece), naghma-ye chartuk (four-part instrumental piece), and naghma-ye kashal (extended instrumental piece). Lariya, I was told by a distinguished Kabuli musician (Sufi Lali), was the old name for what was originally dance music. Naghma-ye chartuk was the term used by Ustad Mohammad Omar, who seems to have adopted the form for solo rubab with tabla accompaniment. Although the pieces I learned from him had four parts (astai, antara, bhog, sanchari) I never heard him or anyone else use the term naghma-ye chartuk at the time. Naghma-ye kashal was the name used by Amir Jan Khushnawaz in Herat, who taught me the notations for a dozen of these pieces. Various Afghan musicians have criticised his use of the term naghma-ye kashal but I consider it to be justified and use it here. Traditionally, such pieces were played at the beginning of a performance of ghazal singing, to warm up the musicians, the instruments and to set the mood for the rag in which the subsequent ghazals were sung. In the 1970s I observed and recorded examples played by the bands of Ustad Amir Mohammad, Ustad Rahim Bakhsh, Ustad Hamahang, as well as by less well-known singers. The performance of this instrumental introduction could be quite lengthy, up to 15-20 minutes, so the term kashal (extended, stretched out) is quite appropriate. The use of the naghma-ye kashal as an overture perhaps dates from the early days of the 20th century; it is less frequently used today and many of the compositions I learned from Amir Jan (who had in turn learned them from his own teacher Ustad Nabi Gol in the 1930s) had been forgotten by other musicians. Here is an example of a naghma in Rag Kausia played by Haji Hamahang and his band in Herat in 1976. Note the extensive rhythmic variations.

The main purpose of this Afghan rubab tutor is to teach six examples of naghma-ye kashal, in Yeman, Pari, Kesturi, Pilu and Asa and Bairami. For each naghma I provide a skeletal performance and teaching material for each section of the naghma in video, played slowly and simply. In addition, each naghma is notated in sargam.

Before looking at the overall structure of a naghma-ye kashal we need to say something about rhythmic concepts in Afghan music. Folk and popular music employs mainly three rhythms, Geda (4/4), Dadra (6/8) and Mogholi (7/8). For classical genres like the naghma-ye kashal Afghans use the metric cycles of Indian music, such as Tintal, Japtal and Ektal. All naghma-ye kashal are composed in the metrical cycle (tal) called Tintal, which consists of 16 beats (matras, equal time units), arranged in 4 groups of 4 units each. In the mnemonic syllable (bol) notation used in Kabul, and borrowed from India, this is represented as:

unit 1unit 2unit 3unit 4

Strong emphasis is laid on the first beat of the cycle, called in Afghanistan the gor beat. In India this is termed the sam beat. Sam (pronounced sum) means 'together', when melody and rhythm come back in phase. With certain exceptions, all the parts of a naghma-ye kashal are composed over two cycles of Tintal, 32 matras. This means that the tabla player is kept pretty busy in the later parts of the naghma, when the tempo accelerates.

The terminology for the different parts of a naghma-ye kashal is confusing. In the two compositions I learned from Ustad Mohammad Omar, in Bairami and Yeman, the four sections are termed astai, antara, bhog and sanchari. In these two compositions the astai and the antara are melodically closely connected, the antara rising to a somewhat higher pitch than the astai. Amir Jan, in contrast, was not familiar with the terms bhog and sanchari, and labelled the sections of the naghma astai, antara 1, antara 2, antara 3, etc. For all six naghma-ye kashal a 32 matras astai is known, but in most cases a 16 matras astai can be played instead. After the astai all parts of all the compositions are in 32 matra cycles. Further discussion of the differences between the six naghma-ye kashal compositions is beyond the scope of this website as presently configured.

The typical naghma-ye kashal performance ends with a special type of composition called a seh (three), in which a melodic phrase is played three times, the last beat of the third repetition coinciding with the gor beat, indicated by an X. This rhythmic cadence gives a sense of closure.