Essential New Music: Naujawanan Baidar’s “Khedmat Be Khalq”

Naujawanan Baidar grew from heavy psych combo Myrrors, but don’t call it a side project. Rather, consider it to be an effort to regrow roots that have been severed by immigration and time, and also an effort to give back to the ancestral soil. Or, if you prefer, you could just call Khedmat Be Khalq a great lo-fi rock record that you didn’t see coming.

Myrrors guitarist Nik Rayne (a.k.a. N.R. Safi) grew up in the American Southwest. He didn’t get curious about Afghanistan until he was in high school. Safi delved more deeply into ancestral sounds after his grandmother gifted him his grandfather’s cassette collection, which was full of the now-suppressed of music popular in 1970s Kabul. Those tapes—and also the sound of the tapes themselves—became the inspirations for Naujawanan Baidar (Farsi for “Enlightened Youth”). Khedmat Be Khalq, the project’s third release, originally came out in 2022 as a cassette on Radio Khiyban, Safi’s private label, and was just reissued on vinyl.

“Aaghaz” opens Khedmat Be Khalq with a feedback buzz low enough to satisfy a Sunn O))) fan’s nutritional needs, but it’s a red herring. Within less than a minute, “Isyan Dorost Ast” switches the channel to a mix of shouted, in-the-red vocals, viscerally garage-y drum beats, a mobile bass line and an indelible, twangy melody via a rubab (an Afghan lute-like instrument). It’s as stirring and in your face as your favorite Savage Republic tune. Advance a couple tracks to “Sang-e,” and some insistent loops of massed reeds and drums amp the intensity even higher. At no point does Safi sing in English; it’s as though he’s directing his words and riffs back to the streets his grandparents walked, sending signals of remembrance and reconcilation. 

—Bill Meyer