Wandering off the hippie trail: Naujawanan Baidar reimagines psychedelic Kabul


Naujawanan Baidar is the project of N.R. Safi (of Tucson’s The Myrrors), which sets out to mine sounds from Afghanistan, of which Safi has a shared heritage. As for myself, not having much of a reference for Afghan music outside of some cuts featured on funky mideast comps, Arizona’s own rabab guru – Qais Essar, Ustad Mohammad Omar’s National Orchestra, and a highly recommended bonkers prog-fusion album Omar played on (Embryo’s Reise), I went into this tape expecting pretty much anything. 

Volume 1 plays out like an unearthed relic of hypnotic, narcotic jams performed by street musicians and recorded live in various settings; among a dense marketplace, smoky den, or in one of Afghanistan’s singular mountain passes. To say this tape is blown out depends largely on your threshold for dubby percussive hits and what sounds like the recording device losing and regaining power throughout these sessions.

Many of the tracks focus on a singular motif/scales (with plenty of variations) played on rubab, harmonia, and sorna. The sparse percussion (tablas or drum machines? no idea) is steadfast and suspended in trance. – something like a leisurely mideastern motorik. Some tracks have a variety of gnarled voices that weave in and out of the instrumentation, often sounding more like mantras being recited and sometimes shouted vs. any kind of traditional, melody-carrying vocals. 

This is the kind of tape that is going to either capture your attention from the get go or float right by you. Naujawanan Baidar beams you into a faraway land and locks you in with inviting melody, sparse grooves, and freak flourishes. This is trance music with reverence to history but manipulated using lo-fi techniques, presumably with a story and a spirit connected to a land and its people. Maybe on future releases (Volume 2 forthcoming), Naujawanan Baidar will divulge more of their story and sources of inspiration. And if not, there is plenty of intrigue baked into the music to where you can formulate your own, for those who care to go deep with it.

Volume 1 is far from a rehash of classical sounds but rather a reimagined psychedelia emanating from a land and culture that us western fucks would be obliged to learn about outside of the contexts of conquest and geopolitics. Treat yourself to a good trip. 

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