Afghan Elvis

Fellows Spring 2007

By Gregory Warner

April 21, 2008

Also published at Radiolab

The odd power of the cover band. So one day in Afghanistan, reporter Gregory Warner started playing "Those Were the Days My Friend" on his accordion. His translator, shocked, asks, "How do you know Afghan music?" Greg scratches his head and thinks, "But this is just some folk song my mom used to sing to me!"

Ahmad Zahir

And so Greg learns the tale of Ahmad Zahir, AKA "Afghan Elvis," who became a pop sensation in Afghanistan in the 1970s with his hybrid versions and East-meets-West music. Though Zahir died under mysterious circumstances in 1979, his music lives on with surprising popularity. We follow Greg on his accordion-wielding journey as he talks to Zahir's widow, childhood friend, and numerous fans to get to the bottom of why his songs endure.

Watch Greg's Johnny Cash performance below.

Greg Warner reported from Afghanistan in the Spring of 2007 as an IRP Fellow.