He came to the stage in a time when women in Kabul wore mini-skirts, foreigners flocked to Afghanistan on the “hippie trail,” and progressive change swept the country. Ahmad Zahir rocketed to stardom in the 60s and 70s, his voice capturing the soul of an entire generation. No other icon in Afghan history can allow us to more deeply explore a country that could have been, and unravel what such a progressive legacy means for the world today.
Despite being a household name for tens of millions of Afghans across the globe, and an inspiration to many others, to this day, there has never been a film about Ahmad Zahir... until now.
This Kickstarter campaign is to support the production of the first-ever film about Ahmad Zahir. Executive produced by his daughter Shabnam, and directed by Oscar-nominated Sam French, the film will explore this icon of Afghan culture in an intimate yet universal way.
Join us and become an essential part of making the first film about Ahmad Zahir!
WHO IS AHMAD ZAHIR?
The son of Abdul Zahir, Afghanistan's Prime Minister under King Zahir Shah, Ahmad Zahir is born into privilege, making it highly unlikely and controversial that he would pursue a musical career. But from an early age, he is obsessed with music, and starts collecting records from all over the world.
Ahmad Zahir goes on to study under famous Afghan folk musicians, and he also travels widely, becoming exposed to the burgeoning musical revolution of the 60s in America, Europe and India. These varied musical influences, along with his love of Afghanistan's most notable poet, Rumi as well as ancient Persian poetry, lead him to forge an entirely new musical style, synthesizing Western rock with traditional Afghan music.
Sporting Elvis-like sideburns, his flamboyant, loud style and poetic lyrics create an atmosphere of intense enthusiasm during his live shows. No one had ever seen anything like Ahmad Zahir before. In the late 60s, recordings of his shows are being passed around on tapes from person to person, played in living rooms across the country. Ahmad Zahir takes the country by storm.
By the early 70s, he has become a household name, singing live shows on the radio and recording his first studio album “Dilak Am” in 1973. But the world is changing, and events are about to thrust Afghanistan into political upheaval, forever altering the course of its future.
In 1973, mere months after Ahmad Zahir’s father resigns as Prime Minister, Daoud Khan overthrows the current government and installs himself as President of the newly formed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Ahmad Zahir initially supports this new government, which attempts to lessen the country’s reliance on the Soviet Union and build up Afghanistan’s military forces. But as he begins to see promises unfulfilled, he starts to speak out through his lyrics, agitating for social reform. In his song “Ajab Sabri Khoda Darad” (1976) Zahir sings:
If I were God… when seeing one shivering and naked and another clothed in a hundred colors, I would tear up the earth and sky.
All the while, Communist sympathies are on the rise, and in 1978, Daoud Khan is overthrown in a bloody coup backed by the Soviets, who install a puppet government. Ahmad Zahir refuses to recognize the government’s legitimacy, and his lyrics become even more political. In one of the last songs he recorded, “Man Nagoyam,” he sings of a bird trapped inside a cage:
Liberate me, liberate me, liberate me. Oh, how the thought of homelessness haunts me. Please save my home.
His voice captures the spirit of the resistance. As a result, the Soviets blacklist his music. Then, on June 14, 1979, he is suddenly killed in a car crash near the Salang Pass. His only daughter Shabnam was also born this day. While a car accident is the “official” line, most Afghans believe he was shot in the head, murdered by the communist regime.
What really happened in that remote mountain pass remains a mystery to this day.
Upon learning of his death, schools across the country close, and men and women in the thousands pour onto the streets to follow his coffin. An era has ended.
Ahmad Zahir’s death presages events to come. As the Soviets cement their hold on the country, the US-backed Mujahedeen forces take up arms and mount an insurgency. Afghanistan becomes a hot front in an otherwise Cold War. The Soviet government is overthrown in the mid-80s, sparking a civil war which is eventually won by the Taliban, who install a severely conservative religious government.
The Taliban outlaw music and free expression. As a symbol of the new rules under their regime, they publicly burn Ahmad Zahir’s tapes and desecrate his grave.
In 2001, after the events of 9/11, a US-backed coalition overthrows the Taliban, plunging the country into ever more conflict, which continues to this day.
But through it all, Ahmad Zahir’s voice lives on in the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. His music is still played throughout the country, and is the one common thread that connects all Afghans in the diaspora all across the world who have fled their home over the decades. And he has inspires a new generation of musicians and activists to dream of a better future. His legacy truly lives on.
Ahmad Zahir’s voice will lead the way...
Drink up your glass Turn the night into day
Forget the sadness of the world
What is life?
Dying under a wall of hope
Being two-faced is not our tradition
Both my day & night are the same color
You forgot about me
The road of separation deepened between us
Drink up your glass
Turn the night into day
Forget the sadness of the world.
WHY MAKE A FILM, AND WHY NOW ?
AHMAD ZAHIR is a film that tells the story of an Afghan musical legend whose life symbolizes an Afghanistan that no longer exists but remains present in the hearts of its people. AHMAD ZAHIR is not strictly a music documentary. We approach Ahmad Zahir’s life as a way into this turbulent period of Afghanistan’s history.
We explore the 60s and 70s through his eyes, and through the eyes of the people he inspired with his music. Just as The Buena Vista Social Club captured the spirit of the Cuban people, and Gimme Shelter provided a window into America’s counterculture movement, our film paints a picture of a country that could have been, and the timeless power of one man’s legacy to unite an entire people.
By using a wealth of archival footage – much of which has never been seen before – we paint a vivid picture of Afghanistan in the 1970s: a time of prosperity, freedom and hope that lives on in the dreams of those who experienced it, both the Afghans who grew up during that time and the foreigners who visited on the hippie trail.
We hear intimate perspectives and fascinating stories from Zahir’s family, friends, prominent Afghan musicians influenced by him, political leaders and cultural figures, as well as foreigners who traveled the “hippie trail” and remember a very different Afghanistan.
Ahmad Zahir’s story in this way allows us to unravel and explore a new version of Afghanistan’s history, one rarely, if ever, explored outside of the Afghan context. Yet it is relevant to all of us, and shares unnerving similarities with the current political landscape in the United States. How does one musician’s legacy continue, and what does it say about the present and future of this nation, but also of the world we live in?
Despite his popularity and influence across the globe, there has never before been a film made about Ahmad Zahir. Millions of Afghans are waiting for this. Today, there are entire radio stations in Kabul devoted to playing only Ahmad Zahir’s music, and his songs are not just played in Afghanistan, but by all Afghans living around the world. Ahmad Zahir is loved by all tribes and classes of Afghans and Tajiks. During a time when Uzbeks and Hazaras dealt with constant racism, Ahmad Zahir broke barriers by connecting with those audiences without prejudice. He is the thread that has tied the country together throughout the past 40 years of war, and is one of the only surviving symbols of an Afghanistan that once was.
With that thread, we weave the story of a unique time in Afghanistan’s history, and of a people still striving to chart their own destiny. Ahmad Zahir, in essence, is a unique beacon of hope for not only Afghanistan, but for all of us trying to survive in a troubled world.
WHERE YOUR DONATION GOES
100% of the funds we receive in this Kickstarter go directly toward the remaining pre-production, and the start of production of the film!
AHMAD ZAHIR has been in development for more than a year, and so far has been financed personally by our Executive Producer Shabnam (Ahmad Zahir's daughter). The producers have been working on the film for free, as well.
The ideas for the film and our plans for implementation are strong - now the only thing holding us back from truly making it are the funds needed to get started on production this fall/winter!
Funds raised through the Kickstarter campaign will go toward pre-production and production costs such as:
- research materials and resources
- camera equipment
- travel costs for filming in Afghanistan, Europe and the USA
- archival news preview and licensing fees
- filmmaking crew fees
Working with a scrappy team on an independent film means we'll do whatever it takes to get the film made - and our Kickstarter goal would fund our getting started on the production. Our hopes are to raise even more than the goal so that we can continue working on the film's production and even the post-production without stopping to raise more money - and you can help us get there by donating and spreading the word about the campaign to everyone you know! Thank you!
HOW KICKSTARTER WORKS ...
AND WHY WE NEED YOUR HELP RIGHT AWAY!
Our campaign is only 30 days long - from Aug 21 until Sept 21. That means we have only 30 days to reach our $150,000 fundraising goal! If we do not reach this amount in time, all the donations given to the film will be refunded and we won't receive any of the money.
It's a risk! But one totally worth taking - because we believe in the power of community around this film, and we know you'll be an incredible part of hitting the goal so we can make this movie a reality for you and with you.
Tashakur and we can't wait to embark on the journey of making this documentary with all of you.
AND NOW THE REWARDS...
You are an essential part of making this groundbreaking film happen, and we want to reward you for that! When you give to this campaign, you can choose your reward based on the level of your gift. Take a look at the reward descriptions at the right-side of this page, for details about what each amount gets you!
Here's a sneak peek of some of the rewards for this campaign!
See more of Paul Nelson Esch's beautiful artwork here >
We'll share the hoodie's design soon! In the mean time, you can get a sense of the sweet look of KingNoorLA's ICONIC Collection here >
Find out all about the amazing Art Lords here >
... and much much more ! Take a look at the right-hand side of this page to choose the reward you love.
WANT TO GIVE OVER $5,000?
Amazing ! We have options for you to be an Associate Producer or Coproducer on the film for significant contributions. We also have options for your donation to be 100% tax-deductible! But these options are not on Kickstarter - so if you are interested in this, please email our Producer Mo Scarpelli at firstname.lastname@example.org and she'll work with you to make this happen right away.
Risks and challenges
FILMING IN AFGHANISTAN
Filming in Afghanistan is never easy. There are logistical issues to consider, as well as the ongoing security situation. However, our team has years of experience on the ground confronting these challenges, and we are well-suited to overcome them.
We will work diligently to secure the support of the Afghan government, as well as the local communities in which we film. We have ambitious plans to create some stunning imagery that reveals the beauty of Afghanistan, and are eager to get shooting as soon as we have funding from this campaign to do so!!
The success of this film rests on the strength of archival footage — not just of Ahmad Zahir, but of the time period in which he lived. Unfortunately, the Taliban systematically destroyed much of this footage, and some of it has been lost to time.
However, we have very good contacts at Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture, which has spearheaded (along with foreign partners) the recovery and restoration of their archives, some of which they hid from the Taliban behind a fake wall to save it. Old film reels are in the process of being digitized as we speak, and we are excited to be able to show never-before-seen archival footage in this film.
Beyond that, we need your help! If you have any photos or videos from the 60s and 70s, please get in touch. The more footage we can include, the better!
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.