Mahwash (born Farida Mahwash, in 1947, Kabul, Afghanistan) commonly referred to as Ustad Mahwash is a popular Afghan singer. She is the first and the only woman to have been conferred the honorary title of "Ustad" (meaning Master or Maestra in Persian). She currently lives in exile in California, U.S.; however, she occasionally does tour other countries for performances
Farida Mahwash was born to a conservative family in Afghanistan. Her mother was teacher of Quran and therefore religion influenced her upbringing. Her interest in music, because of this factor, was suppressed for years as the Afghan society of that time looked upon female singers and musicians with contempt. Upon completion of her studies, Farida accepted a position in the Kabul Radio Station. She was discovered here by the director of the radio station who was impressed by her voice and therefore encouraged Farida to pursue singing as a career.
Farida took music and singing lessons under the scholarship of Ustad Mohammad Hashem Cheshti. He was an established maestro and put the protégé to rigorous training. Most of the lessons were based on classical Indian music that serve to train most Afghan singers up until today. In 1977, Farida was conferred the title of Maestra by Ustad Sarahang, a controversial honor that had up until this point been reserved only for men. After this time, she also released her first album which was well received by the intrigued public who were eager to discover the new music master themselves.
After the political turmoil of late 70s and early 80s that extended into the 90s, Farida was forced to leave Afghanistan in 1991. She moved to Pakistan where she took refuge from the two warring sides of the time, each of whom warned her to sing for their cause or else face assassination. Worn and exhausted, she applied for asylum abroad. Her plight was recognized by UNHCR who granted her political asylum in the United States.
Since her move to the U.S., she has recorded several notable albums. She also lead the music group Kaboul Ensemble in 2003 in the World Music Awards by BBC.
Janis Joplin Award
Golden Voice Award
World Music 2003 Award, by BBC, Winner in the Asia Category, within the Kaboul Ensemble