The Folk Mission of Afghanistan’s Most Pioneering Classical Musician


To say Homayoun Sakhi is committed to his craft is an understatement. The classical Afghan musician continues his family’s legacy of mastering the rubâb—the short-necked lute that’s Afghanistan’s most beloved national instrument. His life is dedicated to improving his own musicianship while at the same time helping Afghan folk music not only stay alive but find new life in modern interpretation.

We spoke with Homayoun about what motivates him, what it’s like to blend old traditions with new, and how he manages to be so wonderfully and innovatively skilled.

Richmond Folk Fest: What is it about the rubab and classical Afghan music in general that is so inspiring to you? Why is it so important to you to keep this tradition alive?
Homayoun Sakhi: My father used to play the rubâb, my uncle used to play the rubâb. It’s a family tradition, it's the national instrument of Afghanistan. It’s important for me to keep this tradition alive because of the history my family and I share with this beautiful instrument. And I feel I have a responsibility to share Afghan classical/folk music with the world. I am today’s generation; it is important to hold onto your roots.

RFF: What can Americans learn from listening to Afghan music?
HS: They will hear a sound that was heard by many generations before them. They will see how modern our culture is through music, they will experience peace through Afghan music. Music has no boundaries and brings all cultures together through its sound.

RFF: At 40, you’re so young for someone with such a legacy, yet your dedication to your art is already somewhat legendary. Could you walk us through a typical day? 
HS: Music is my life, everything I do is to be a better artist. 
After morning prayers, I love to start my day practicing on the rubâb. After two to three hours of practice, I will get some breakfast and go to the gym. Then I come home, teach my music students for a few hours, and also spend time with my family and friends. After dinner, I spend five to six hours or more composing new pieces and practicing my music into the late hours of the night.

RFF: You’re also known for being very inventive. What’s it like combining an ancient art with new methods?
HS: Every day we are all getting older, but music is getting younger. 
I like mixing the old ways with new techniques—it’s the best way to get today’s generation to listen to such a classical instrument. As an artist, it’s exciting and challenging to bring to life modern sounds like pop rock and hip hop on a classical folk instrument like the rubab. It’s important to keep old traditions and music alive, so I make sure I always practice the old folk sounds, but then I make it modern in my new compositions, so today’s generation will like it.

It’s important this culture and tradition does not get lost, and it’s my mission to bring the sounds and tradition of Afghan classical music to the world.