Ustad Farida Mahwash is the “Voice of Afghanistan,” and one of the most beloved
singers in the entire Central Asian region.
Ustad Farida Mahwash is the “Voice of Afghanistan,” and one of the most beloved
singers in the entire Central Asian region.

Mahwash: Voice of a Nation, Echo in Exile

A gripping tale of Mahwash, Afghanistan’s first female master musician, tracing the peaks of her stardom, the harsh reality of her exile, and her heartfelt dreams of returning to her homeland.


Ustad Farida Mahwash is the “Voice of Afghanistan,” and one of the most beloved singers in the entire Central Asian region. Her robust, luminous voice with its subtle command of ornamentation has dazzled audiences worldwide, as she shares her country’s rich musical heritage through performances and recordings.

Farida was born into a conservative Afghan family. Her mother was a Quran teacher, who recited with a beautiful voice, and religion loomed large in the girl’s upbringing. For many years, Farida’s interest in music was suppressed as female singers and musicians were viewed with contempt. Upon completing her studies, Farida found support and refuge in a position at the Kabul Radio Station. The station’s director, Ustad Hafiz Ullah Khayal, recognized her extraordinary talent, and bravely encouraged her to pursue singing as a career. It was Ustad Khayal who gave Farida her stage name, Mahwash, which means “like the moon.”

Mahwash then took music and singing lessons under the tutelage of Ustad Mohammad Hashim Chishti. An established maestro, Chishti quickly launched his protégé on a rigorous training regime. Most of his lessons, which are based on North Indian classical music, are still used today to train Afghan singers. Mahwash went on to study with the renowned Afghan singer Ustad Hussain Khan Sarahang, who guided her through her meteoric rise as a radio star. Another master composer, Ustad Shahwali, created many songs for her to sing on the radio. One of the best known was “O Bacha (Oh Boy),” which brings together half a dozen regional songs in one extended modern song cycle. When Mahwash learned this complex piece and recorded it in a single day, she was given the title of Ustad—or “master”—a controversial move as, until that point, this was an honor reserved only for men.

After the political turmoil of the late 1970s and ‘80s, Ustad Mahwash was forced to leave Afghanistan. In 1991, she and her family moved to Pakistan, where she took refuge from two warring factions, each of whom wanted her to sing for their cause, or face assassination. Worn and exhausted, she applied for asylum abroad, and, eventually, her plight was recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Mahwash was granted political asylum in the United States in October, 1991.

In 2001, Mahwash reunited with other exiled musicians to form and lead The Kabul Ensemble. This group performed at some of the most prestigious concert halls in Europe and revealed to sophisticated audiences a hitherto unknown world of uniquely beautiful music. In 2003, Mahwash and the Kabul Ensemble recorded the critically acclaimed album Radio Kaboul (Accords Croisés). This rich collection pays homage to the disappeared or exiled composers and musicians of Afghan radio’s golden era. Later that year, Mahwash received a prestigious BBC Radio 3 World Music Award, both for her artistic excellence and for her work in speaking on behalf of thousands of orphaned Afghan children. In 2007, Wahwash followed up with a recording secular and sacred love poems, Ghazals Afghans (Accords Croises /Harmonia Mundi), in which, Martina Catella notes, “The legendary queen of ornamentation displays a rainbow of the most refined tones and colors to express feelings of love.”

Mahwash has built her phenomenal career in the face of two wars and under a forced state of isolation from her homeland. Although she had to leave Afghanistan, she has never lost her deep love for the country and its people. The collaboration—Voices of Afghanistan— is a magical exchange of powerful vocals and deft musicianship under artistic direction of music producer Dawn Elder and Afghan musical director Homayoun Sakhi these musicians and artists have quickly garnered a reputation as the most powerful cultural ambassadors of Afghanistan today.

Ustad Farida Mahwash was the first woman to have been conferred the honorary title of “Ustad” (meaning Master or Maestra in Dari) in 1977. She currently lives in Fremont, California, US; and tours the world.

Mahwash has built her career in the face of two wars and under a forced state of isolation from her homeland. Although she had to leave Afghanistan, she has never lost her deep love for the country and its people.

In 2012 Mahwash became a member of the group Voices of Afghanistan, an Afghani ensemble featuring Mahwash on vocals, rubab master Homayoun Sakhi, and The Sakhi Ensemble. Also were other notable Afghan master/ and Uzbekistan (Abbos Kosimov) musicians and singers. This collaboration debuted in June 2012 under the direction of music producer and composer Dawn Elder, who created this group with Mawash and Homayoun.

One of their landmark performances came before 27,000 American fans at the Carrier Dome for the One World Concert event. In 2012, Mahwash, Homayoun Sakhi and the group began recording a new album.


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About us

Sam Javadi (Director)

Sam Javadi is an Iranian director and cinematographer based in the United States. Sam was born in 1986 in Iran. He has written and directed more than 15 stage shows and 10 short films. His stage shows were played in the US, Russia, Tajikistan, Belarus, China, United Arab Emirates (Dubai), Germany, Uzbekistan and Iran. He has also composed 10 songs. Sam Javadi won IATC Awards in the Music Section for “Fairy Talking of Stone and Love”.

Sam has been recognized as a director, writer and composer or other crew member, with several national and international awards.


After the Curtain (2016)

44th Dance on Camera​, Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York, NY, Feb 12-16, 2016

Best Picture (Documentary), Sose International Film Festival

Purple Crystal (TV Series 2013-2017)

Bahram Beyzaie: A Mosaic of Metaphors (TV Movie 2019)

Director of Photography:

Home Yet Far Away (Feature documentary) Dir. Sabereh Kashi 2017

Assistant Director & Director advisor:

Midnight Traveler. Director Hassan Fazili, 2019

Berlin International Film Festival

Biografilm Festival

Cinema Eye Honors Awards, US

Cinetopia Film Festival

San Francisco International Film Festival

Sundance Film Festival


NFF, Nowsaz Film festival, Tajikistan 2018

Zahir Rashed (Writer)

My name is Zahir Rashed, and I’m a screenwriter hailing from Afghanistan, currently living in San Francisco. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been curious about the world around me and interested in people and their experiences. I have always been an observer of life, and my passion has been to share stories through visuals and words.

When I was younger, I would say to my friends, “If I take a pen and write about the first person I see on the street in any city of Afghanistan, or if I take a camera and walk on any street in any part of Afghanistan, I will be able to make a compelling story worth telling, sharing and showing.” I believed in that imagination and still do. Eventually, I started working with a media organization as an editor and content manager for a publication called Afghanistan Today Magazine, which is published Afghanistan-wide.

While writing for Afghanistan Today, I discovered that I was right; there are stories worth telling, but to be able to write those stories professionally, I needed professional training, and that’s how I ended up in the US, studying the art of screenwriting and storytelling. And so, I started my career as a creative scriptwriter ever since.