The Sounds of an Ancient Stringed Instrument

November 15, 2007

Download Story
Habib Wardack and one of his rubabs

For thousands of teenaged boys the guitar's allure is unavoidable. They can't wait to get their hands on one and imitate their favorite rock star. That's never been the case for an 18-year-old college student living in Gurnee, Illinois. Habib Wardack prefers another type of stringed instrument- one that's been around since the 7th Century. Wardack first picked up a rubab when he was 8 years old. He's considered a virtuoso.

ambi: rubab music

 

That is the sound of a rubab. Rubab loosely means door to the soul. It's been called the lion of instruments. The Persians are considered the instrument's inventors; it's mentioned in ancient Persian literature and in some Sufi poetry. But for centuries, the rubab has been the national instrument of Afghanistan.

It's a melodic stringed instrument shaped like a small boat typically made from a mulberry tree. The instrument starts as a big block of wood soaked in water for a year then it sits in the sun for another year then buried in hay. Finally, once it's carved out, it's dropped on the ground then put back together.

Habib Wardack has 20 rubabs hanging from his family's basement ceiling like sides of cattle.


ambi: basement tour 


Habib is Afghani, but was born and raised in Peshawar Pakistan. He and his family have been living in the U.S. four about four years. He's only been to Afghanistan three times.

 

WARDACK: And this instrument is why I love it so much because it's one of the things that is left that reminds me of my homeland when I'm here you know, sometimes just playing with it is just a good memory.

 

He was 8 years old when he first picked up a rubab. It was one his dad brought home to hang on the wall like a piece of art. Habib took it down off the wall and began to pluck a tune he'd heard lots of times at home.

 

WARDACK: This one song, it's actually a very famous song in Afghanistan, it's called..., which means 'My Beautiful Country.' That song I heard thru the radio several times so I picked up the instrument and just started playing it.

 

ambi: rubab music  

 

Okay we've all heard the stories about how the once ruling Taliban of Afghanistan tried to dismantle much of that country's ancient culture by outlawing almost everything including music. But hey, laws always meant to be broken and Habib says Afghani's would smuggle rubabs around the country by hiding them in mud bricks. 
 

WARDACK: When the Taliban came all the musicians went from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Peshawar and there they were highly respected and highly paid and then they went to Germany, here, Australia and all these other places and they actually got quite famed.

 

Habib plays mostly classical, but he'll also play Afghani folk every now and then. Habib calls music his most important hobby, one that seems to take up all his free time and suround him- not only in the basement where he's building a recording studio, but his bedroom.
 

ambi: bedroom scene

 

His computer is loaded with music programs, including his own musical compositions. None of the three clocks in the room has the correct time- he seems totally engulfed in this most important hobby of his. But music is clearly more than hobby for Habib Wardack. He says one day he'd like to create an orchestra for Afghanistan with indigenous instruments.

 

WARDACK: The ultimate goal is to be service to this instrument and to the music of my country. That's the ultimate goal.