Songlines

John Baily and his wife Veronica Doubleday humbly put singer Abdul Wahab Madadi ahead of their own names on this beautiful album of folk songs from Herat in Afghanistan. But Madadi doesn’t actually appear until track eight (out of 12) – it’s essentially Baily and Doubleday’s Album.

The pair lived in Herat in the mid-70s, wrote books about Afghanistan’s music and have since been tireless and important promoters of it. John Baily wrote the important Freemuse report on the all-pervasive music censorship under the Taliban, and he regularly reviews Afghan music in this magazine. He’s also an accomplished player of the rubab and dutar – the characteristic lutes of Afghanistan. Doubleday has a valuable repertoire of songs she learnt from the women of Herat.

What they perform here is intimate domestic music with voice, dutar and daira (frame drum) – and a couple of the original field recordings of the source material can be heard on Afghanistan: The Traditional Music of Herat (Auvidis/Unesco). Baily doesn’t try to reproduce the wild nightingale-like whistles of Mohammad Sadeq in ‘Jam-e Narenji’ and Doubleday is less forceful than the singer Hawa in the wedding song ‘Bada Bada’ (both recorded on the Unesco disc). But their more restrained and refined versions stand up to repeated listening and hearing these exquisite performances you can understand why Baily and Doubleday have become honorary Afghans at concerts around the world.

—Simon Broughton