Ustad Farida Mahwash was born into a conservative Afghan family. Her mother was a Quran teacher and religion loomed large throughout her upbringing. For many years, her interest in music was suppressed as, at the time, female singers and musicians were viewed with contempt. Upon completion of her studies, Farida accepted a position in the Kabul Radio Station. There, she was discovered by the station’s director who encouraged her to pursue singing as a career.
>Farida took music and singing lessons under the scholarship of Ustad Mohammad Hashem Cheshti. An established maestro, he quickly put the protégé under a rigorous training regime. Most of the lessons, which were based on North Indian classical music, are still used today to train Afghan singers. In 1977, Farida was conferred the title of Maestra by Ustad Sarahang, a controversial move as, until that point, it was an honor reserved for men. In 1977, she received the title of Ustad (master).
After the political turmoil of late 1970s through 1980s Ustad Mahwash was forced to leave Afghanistan. In 1991, with her family in tow she moved to Pakistan where she took refuge from the two warring sides of the time, each of whom urged her to sing for their cause or face assassination. Worn and exhausted, she applied for asylum abroad. Eventually, her plight was recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and she was granted political asylum in the United States.
Ustad Mahwash has gone on to become the “voice of Afghanistan,” sharing the country’s rich musical heritage in critically-acclaimed performances and recordings. In 2003, she received a prestigious BBC Radio 3 World Music Award, which was issued for artistic excellence as well as for her work speaking on behalf of thousands of orphaned Afghan children. Through it all, she remains a powerful vocalist and passionate champion of refined, yet haunting, music in the service of a peace-filled Afghanistan.