Afghanistan Music

Journey to the Mysterious Land of Qaf with Qais Essar

          Fresh off a Canadian Screen Award for his song the The Crown Sleeps for the Angelina Jolie produced film The Breadwinner, Qais Essar brings us his most ambitious and conceptual work to date: The Ghost You Love Most. Similar to previous works, the album reflects Qais’s Afghan-American identity. Essar’s life revolves around the rabab, the string instrument synonymous with Afghan culture. “Its hard to play an instrument so intimately and not appreciate everything about it- its origin, its history, its music. That music is my foundation, it’s where it started.” says Essar.

          Growing up Essar was heavily influenced by the music of Ravi Shankar, Led Zeppelin, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and The Beatles. The midway point of the album, Sohini Surfer/Emerald Waves, was inspired by the psychedelic era of music that The Beatles helped usher in by the time of the 1967 Summer of Love. This background in both eastern and western music is prevalent throughout the album and has given the young musician the perspective to create his finest work yet. But rather than labeling The Ghost You Love Most as a fusion, Qais prefers to think of it as an amalgam, a step towards a new global genre that he hopes to help create. “I don’t want to just impose one musical style on another. To create that perfect amalgam, you have to ascertain some level of understanding about either side. The record’s a look at the new world-Rabab among rock band, Afghan among cacti. Wonderful things where you least expect it.” says Essar.

Photo by Negine Jasmine

          Thematically, The Ghost You Love Most is rich in Islamic and Middle Eastern lore. The album tells the story of a protagonist’s search for meaning and unanswered questions at the end of his life, wherein after death, begins his quest through the land of Qaf. “In this alternate realm, land of djinn and other fantastical creatures, lives the Simurgh on the top of Mount Qaf- an emerald mountain whose ascension represents the pilgrims spiritual state. In conference with the Simurgh is where the protagonist hopes to find peace and resolution. What is said between these two is however unknown to even me, hence the last track being left “untitled”. Ultimately salvation means different things to different people, and should be left to be interpreted by the individual listener.” Essar explained.

          In Persian, Arabian, and Greater Middle Eastern mythology, Mount Qaf is a place shrouded in mystery. In some accounts it is said to be similar to the Mountain of Purgatory from Dante’s Divine Comedy, with each level representing a new state of spiritual growth. In others Mount Qaf isn’t a mountain at all, but an entire mountain range that surrounds the farthest edges of the earth, holding the very planet together. For thematic purposes Essar uses the former interpretation in The Ghost You Love Most. The Simurgh living at the top of Mount Qaf is a mythical bird said to be so ancient that it has lived through the destruction of the world multiple times. Because of its lifespan, the Simurgh is thought to possess knowledge beyond the ages and hold the answers to the universe, hence the protagonist’s hopes to gain enlightenment from the phoenix-like creature.

Photo by Chris Rivera

          Whether it’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, what most great concept albums have in common is that they use their palette of sounds to let the listener visualize the narrative. The Ghost You Love Most excels in this with the breathtaking transcendental environment that it creates. Every tala and chord progression pushes the story forward and paints a vivid picture of our protagonist’s quest through the otherworldly realm of the djinn.

          Although the story is quite a heavy one, throughout the entirety of the album shines a ray of hope. According to Qais that’s what keeps the protagonist moving forward through his trek- the idea that there is something more, something to look forward to at the end. The album’s first song, The Culmination of a Sorrowful Life, is meant to represent the final moments of the protagonist’s long dysphoric life. As the tempo of the song speeds up his entire life flashes before his eyes, he takes his final breathes and his soul escapes his body into a higher plane of existence. Although his time here on Earth has ended, his journey to the land of Qaf has just begun.


You can stream and purchase The Ghost You Love Most here:

    Written by Bijjan Sadegh Shirvani




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