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.

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.


Play Video

About us

Sam Javadi (Director)

Sam Javadi is a versatile artist with experience across film, theater, and performance. Highlights of his career include serving as Video Director for “Whispers of Spring” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, leading the Takshot Film Company, and teaching directing and screenwriting workshops for short films.
His creative talents extend to writing and directing narrative and documentary works. These include “Bahram Bazai,” “Home yet Far away,” and an array of short films such as “Shedin Skin,” “My Mother is an Angel,” “White Flower,” “Impasse,” “Two Windows,” and his latest, “Wednesday.” 
Javadi is a multifaceted artist who has received international awards recognizing his exceptional talent and contributions to short film and contemporary arts. This further demonstrates his prominence within the global artistic community.

Zahir Rashed (Writer)

Zahir Rashed is an Afghan screenwriter and storyteller currently based in San Francisco. From a young age, he has been fascinated by people and compelled to share their experiences through visual storytelling. This passion led him to work as an editor and content manager for Afghanistan Today Magazine, writing profiles that revealed the captivating stories of everyday Afghans. Through this experience, Zahir realized he needed professional training to hone his skills. Since moving to the US, he has been studiously pursuing the art of screenwriting and visual storytelling. Zahir aims to continue crafting compelling narratives that provide insight into the diverse lives of people from his homeland and beyond.

Sepideh Abdolvahab (Editor)

Sepideh Abdolvahab is an acclaimed Iranian film editor with over two decades of experience. She has edited more than 70 films that have screened at major festivals worldwide including Berlinale, Venice, and Toronto. Sepideh began her career as an assistant editor, learning from her mother Hayedeh Safiyari, the renowned editor of films like A Separation. Her first editing credit was on the drama Friday Evening in 2002. Since then, she has worked with top Iranian directors like Bahram Beizaei, Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, and Mohsen Abdolvahab, garnering multiple award nominations and wins. Based in Los Angeles, Sepideh continues to teach and mentor new editors, sharing her expertise through workshops in Iran and the U.S.

Azadeh Navai (Co-Producer)

Azadeh Navai is an Iranian filmmaker and producer. Her films are explorations of the people, culture and history of her home country, and have screened internationally–including New York Film Festival, BFI London, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Edinburgh International Film Festival, SLAMDANCE, Chicago International Film Festival, and Atlanta film Festival. Azadeh holds an MFA in Film & Video from California Institute of the Arts and is a grant recipient from the arthouse streaming platform, Fandor. She is a co-founder at the production collective, Studio Dastan.

Sara Rezaei (Post-Production Manager)

As a Creative Film Production Manager with a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail, Sara stands as a dedicated professional in the heart of the entertainment industry. Over the past five years, Sara has delved deep into the world of the entertainment industry, working on various projects ranging from children’s books to animations and short films, while also advocating for underrepresented artists from Afghanistan and Iran. She seamlessly blends creativity with logistical skills, ensuring that every frame tells a compelling story while adhering to budgets and timelines

Ary Modares (Sound Supervisor)​

Ary Modares is an entertainment professional with a decade of experience in creating, developing, and delivering high-quality audio and media projects in various forms and scales, he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Audio Production from The Los Angeles Film School. Demonstrating a passion for premium content in the film and TV industry, he has successfully navigated roles at esteemed organizations such as Dead Cat Audio, Takshot Film, LLC, and Dolby Laboratories. His expertise spans music production, film production, and audio specialist roles, contributing to thought leadership in the music tech space, and ensuring industry-standard sound design for films.

Humaira Ghilzai

Humaira Ghilzai – a versatile cultural producer, storyteller, and dialect coach – draws from her experiences on Broadway, The West End, and various theaters across the US and UK for her advisory on projects related to Afghanistan and the Islamic world. She has also worked on Hollywood films and Apple TV’s Little America. Passionate about catalyzing social change, Humaira co-founded the Afghan Friends Network in 2003, striving to provide educational opportunities for women, girls, and boys in rural Afghanistan. Having grown up in Afghanistan, Humaira admired the artistry of Ustad Mahwash and feels profoundly honored to contribute to bringing her remarkable story to life.