Afghan ghazals
New York City

The transcendent singer, composer, and harmonium player Ahmad Fanoos performs songs spanning Afghanistan’s rich and complex musical heritage. Renowned for his mastery of the ghazals, songs of spiritual and romantic love based in Sufi poetry, his repertoire also encompasses the euphoric Islamic qawwali devotionals and odes from the region’s ancient Buddhist heritage.

From childhood, Ahmad Fanoos had a passion for music. With few musical role models, he taught himself to play the flute and the harmonium, a keyboard instrument operated by a hand-pumped bellows which he uses to accompany his singing. Fanoos never imagined that music would be more than his own beloved personal pursuit until he was forced to seek refuge in Pakistan during the first Taliban take-over of the late 1990s. Friends there recruited him to play in local bands, where his skill in multiple genres brought him great popularity; “I was,” he says with a laugh, “basically a convenience store,” of musical talent.

After returning to a newly liberated Afghanistan in 2001, Ahmad Fanoos emerged as one of his country’s most beloved musicians, winning prestigious national and regional singing awards. For three years he was a judge and coach on Afghan Star, a wildly popular televised competition that broke new cultural ground by promoting Afghan musicians across lines of gender, language, and ethnic background. It was his reputation as both an outstanding traditional musician and a supporter of this inclusive view of Afghan culture that eventually forced him to emigrate to the United States. As the Taliban regained power in 2021 and music was again banned, Fanoos received multiple death threats against himself and his family. The intervention of allies across the globe got them safely on an evacuation flight as Kabul fell.

Now resettled in New York, Ahmad Fanoos is in demand as a teaching artist and a performer embraced by the Afghan American community. At Lowell, Fanoos performs with Sohail Karimi on tabla in a duo that highlights the traditional ghazals and ancient devotionals for which he is best known. Through the Heart of Afghanistan program, he shares this vibrant musical heritage “so Afghan art is not forgotten.” HOA is an American Voices Production.