Evolution of the Afghan Dutar (instrument) with  Markus Wach 

If you haven’t read the post about the Sato and Kamancheh please do so:

Recently, I’ve been indulging myself into the study of sounds and how different instruments have different means of expression even if they happen to be of the same family and/or share a common ancestor. I’ve been interested in more ancient instruments and some of their sounds that may have been lost in the evolution of music. That is when I came across Markus Wach.

Three things struck a chord about Markus (no pun intended)

1.      His passion and curiosity for unearthing ancient sounds and restoring forgotten instruments

2.      His humble nature and willingness to collaborate and interact

3.      His diverse knowledge in this domain not only within a specific locality but across countries, territories,  and even time

Thus, I thought it would only be apt to take a deeper dive into his research and work especially since there is inadequate literature in this front. His study primarily stems upon how one can pursue traditional techniques and methods to play music on authentic medieval instruments.

Here, I aim to touch upon the Evolution of the Afghan Dutar. 

Brief history of the traditional dutar

The Dutar/Dotar is an ancient instrument that has been around for almost 2000 years in Iran, Central Asia, parts of India, and Pakistan. It was typically known to be a ‘village instrument’ with a very simplified fretting system. Travellers and missionaries used to carry the instrument and expose it to different cultures and people and so many countries have adopted different variations of the dutar. As the name suggests,the instrument traditionally has two strings and typically takes the form of a long-necked lute. 

The birth of the Herati Dutar 

However, the traditional Afghan dutar actually has three strings. In the 1950’s, Radio Kabul (a renowned radio station in Kabul, Afghanistan) started featuring a lot of Kabul Rubab players who made up the mainstream scene back then. The Rubab was and still is an integral part of Afghan traditional and popular music. The rubab had a lot of resonance strings and produced a more holistic sound compared to that of the dutars. Now, the dutar players wanted to also enter the scene and that gave rise to the more evolved and developed version of the dutar, otherwise known as the Herati Dutar. Essentially, the original dutar was lengthened, and enhanced with more frets and resonance strings. They also modified the playing technique from playing with fingers to using a plectrum sometimes attached to the index finger. This enabled more dutar players to enter the scene and cater to a wider audience. 

This development is somewhat reflective of a revolutionary change in the socio musical environment as new methods of teaching, playing and performing had to be engineered and adopted. For example, there was a growing movement towards fast and strong rhythms from raw, slow and unmetered vocals (https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/202147?journalCode=ca). In fact, it is believed that traditional dutar players had to adopt Herati dutar if they wanted to pursue a profession in music. 

Now lets compare and contrast the sounds -

Here is Markus playing a small improvisation on the initial afghan dutar (with three strings)


Now, the Herati Dutar, or Dotar of Herat, is most commonly used in the town of Herat (West Afghanistan) and the additional drones and resonance strings are very apparent especially in comparison. The strings are made of steel as opposed to gut and the sound resembles that of the Kabuli Rubab and Afghan Tambur. 

Here is Markus playing the Herati Dutar:


Make sure to check out his work (below)

I'd love to learn more and talk to more people so please do reach out via insta, twitter, linked! All links on my profile.