Understanding the Book
Some words on the structure and orientation of Music in the Culture of Northern Afghanistan might help the reader to locate the book on the ethnomusicological scene of the day, the early 1970s. The earlier comparativism of the discipline had broken down under the weight of inrushing data from the flood of fieldwork studies, begun by the generation just before me, many trained at UCLA's pioneering Institute of Ethnomusicology, and of my many contemporaries, trained in the newly-established graduate programs at universities like the Universities of Washington, Illinois, Indiana, Wesleyan, and Michigan, where I was the first ethnomusicology graduate student. Overwhelmingly, the emphasis was on "area studies," supported by government and foundation fellowships as a way for the United States, the increasingly powerful superpower, to stake its claim in the sphere of knowledge alongside economic and military concerns. The world seemed open to our travels and discoveries, and our monographs pointed to new possibilities, but were still largely based on insights and methods from anthropology, musicology, and linguistics. Only later (early to mid- 1970s) did we begin to treat fieldwork more skeptically and reflexively, moving with the tide of anthropology and the temper of the post-Vietnam times.
In Afghanistan, then, I gathered information on distribution of musical instruments and the diffusion of tune-types while also trying to sort out ethnic preferences and the social organization of music in towns and cities. I had hoped to fulfill the dream of pure village research among authentic peasants, a vision borrowed from Bartok that coincided with the stern dictates of Boasian anthropology's demand for immersion among integral populations of "culture bearers." But the provincial authorities worried about losing foreigners in the countryside, so kept us close to the urban setting of bazaar and the lone hotel of which we were often the only occupants. Slowly, the cloud of frustration lifted. I understood that town settings could be at least as fruitful a field as the closed compounds of the mud-brick villages that dotted the inhospitable steppes of the North. The slow fade-in of "urban ethnomusicology" coincided with my intuitive interest in the way music helped to shape local culture in the centers of commerce and ethnic interchange.
My attention was increasingly drawn to the overlaps and differences among the many ethnic groups parking camels and rubbing shoulders along the main streets, back bazaars, truck stops, and teahouses of the towns. Helpfully, Fredrik Barth came to my aid with his new term "ethnic boundaries," just as I was turning a mostly musicological dissertation into a more anthropology-friendly book. The tactics of sociolinguistics (not yet called that) were chipped in by grad student friends like Don Stilo and my many fine teachers from the Center for Near Eastern and North African Studies. My early reading of the broad Soviet literature on the peoples of Central Asia helped give a comparative scope. The emergence of the new performance-oriented approach in folklore came along just in time. It was a good moment to be standing on one's feet in traditional orientalist area studies and older ethnomusicology while peering down the road for the new scholarly signals of restless disciplinary neighbors.
Transliteration issues. Using the Roman alphabet for words taken from other writing systems is also a compromise. For the book, I settled on a system that relies on the "hachek," the little v-shaped diacritical mark over s, c, and g that makes them sh, ch, and gh in other versions of transliteration, and I used x for kh. Since it was too cumbersome to re-edit the entire book to change that method, the full text remains unchanged. For the excerpts, I have switched to a hachek-and x-free approach and hope the reader will adjust.