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Intermezzo…A Brief Aside to the Music of Iraq

Intermezzo…A Brief Aside to the Music of Iraq

To preface today’s post, I’ll be honest…there haven’t been a lot of “glass-is-half-full” stories coming out of Iraq, recently. Between the political impasse, and the precipitous rise in sectarian violence, it seems like forever since there’s been a plain-old feel good story to put the focus back on the good and decent Iraqi people who are facing this carnage. So let’s take a break from car-bombs, football scandals, and the ever-increasing PKK conflict along the Turkish border and manufacture some emotional uplift…

A little over a month ago, the Washington Post ran front-page feature on Iraq’s difficulty dealing with a rising epidemic of mental illness brought on by decades of conflict, psychological trauma and a severely withered health infrastructure. The article introduced us to Dhia Hardan, who is dealing with his manic depression through music. The Post presented a video of Hardan playing his oud, a pear-shaped string instrument that’s helped him self-medicate his melancholy.

This got me thinking about the music of Mesopotamia – a subject I knew little about…

A quick survey informed me that Iraq’s music belongs to that of the Arab world, but due to its proximity has been widely influenced by Persian musical tradition. Naturally, poetry has always played an important role. As a genre, it’s evolved from a classical period, through maqam melodic modes played on qanum, rig, santur, darbuka, naggara, ney, dhose and the popular oud. Now in its modern period, the music of Mesopotamia has advanced into pop territory, characterized by traditional themes and the reinterpretation of age-old folk ballads performed with modern instruments.

So, without further ado, allow me to present my very brief and entirely unacquainted survey of the music of Iraq…

Let’s start with some classical oud played by Jamil Bashir, born in Basra in 1921, the former head of the Baghdad Radio Orchestra and later the Baghdad Radio Music Orchestra…

Jamil Bashir on the oud

To be honest, I’m picking up that hint of flamenco…but let’s really see the master at work. Next up, Jamil Bashir jams rhythm and blues in a nod to the modern. This is not to be missed.

Jamil Bashir Plays Rhythm and Blues with Reckless Abandon

Here’s another throwback to the classical maqam, courtesy of master maqamster, Hussain Al-Adhami, ofBaghdad.

Hussain Al-Adhami/Maqam Jammaal and Pasta

From the past to the present, with Dalli Haddad (aka Dalli), Iraq’s answer to Miley, whose rise to super-stardom coincided with her performance of Iraq’s 2007 Asian Cup anthem and the team’s success in the tournament…

Soccer Anthem, as sung by Dali, Complete with Highlights

So, clearly, I have a lot yet to learn about music in Iraq and I’ll be updating this post as I make headway…but here’s to a the hidden talent and treasure of a country making headlines for all the wrong reason. Any musical suggestions, please send along…




Reid Smith

Reid Smith has worked as a research associate specializing on U.S. policy in the Middle East and as a political speechwriter. He is currently a doctoral student and graduate associate with the University of Delaware's Department of Political Science and International Relations. He blogs and writes for The American Spectator.