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 Iraqi music is casualty of war

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الدولة : المانيا
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عدد المساهمات : 10058
تاريخ التسجيل : 07/10/2009
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مُساهمةموضوع: Iraqi music is casualty of war    الأربعاء 08 ديسمبر 2010, 04:30

Iraqi music is casualty of war

Performing before a half-empty room at Baghdad's Alwiyah Club, Taha Gharib is conscious that the music he has passionately played for decades -- traditional Iraqi maqam -- is dying.

Victim of the country's growing modernity and years-long violence, the poetic form of music that came to symbolise the newly-born Iraq that emerged after the fall of the Ottoman Empire is now played by fewer and fewer groups.

"Iraqi maqam risks disappearing with our generation," laments Gharib, who leads one of just five remaining maqam troupes in Iraq.

"People don't respect maqam anymore because today they prefer singers who just make noise," the 46-year-old says after his performance in Alwiyah, a rare oasis of cultural freedom in Baghdad, which remains plagued by violence.

Maqam ensembles typically include musicians playing a joza, an eastern lute, a tabla, and a santur, a trapezoidal box with 24 strings, though there are frequently more instruments involved, as a singer recites often centuries-old lyrics.

Gharib's quartet, for example, also includes a musician playing an oud, another type of lute.

Dating as far back as the end of the Abbasid era, which ran from the 8th to the 13th centuries, maqam became ingrained in Iraq's cultural identity in the decades following the country's modern founding in 1921.

"In the 20th century, maqam was a pillar of cultural life in Baghdad," notes Iraqi ethnomusicologist Scheherazade Hassan. While those who performed were typically those who had studied maqam for years, she says, it retained a wide audience.

She adds that maqam "historically fulfilled the purposes of a cultural ideal to foster respect for ethnic and social diversity ... it is an expression of collective identity."But two factors were predominant in its decline: firstly, the rise of an Iraqi middle class who began to call for a wider variety of music, including Arabic pop.

And secondly, high levels of violence in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein forced hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to leave the country, and maqam artists were no exception.

Another consequence of the violence was that many of the places where maqam was played closed their doors, and communal bloodshed made it difficult for performers of various sects to play in certain parts of Iraq.

As if to drive home the point of maqam's decline, as Gharib and his quartet play to a crowd of around 100 diners, Arabic pop music blares from adjacent rooms where two weddings are underway.

Maqam today is treated almost like an artefact in a museum, a remnant of a bygone era.

"The ministry of culture calls on us from time to time to perform at recitals outside of Iraq, at the request of foreign countries," Gharib says, noting that he has had to take a job as a civil servant in the industry ministry because maqam no longer brings in enough income.

The slow death of form of music is evident also at the very institution that is meant to safeguard it in Iraq, the House of Maqam.

Given the decrepit building that houses it in central Baghdad to the high average age of those who come to listen to maqam players ply their trade, the typically sorrowful rhythm of maqam seems a fitting backdrop to its decline.

On this particular day, a musician performs for around a dozen listeners, singing of lost love:"The flames of love make me cry/Others toast to love, but all I have is pain/I don't want to suffer any more, but I am drowning/I cry like a lost dove/Lost by day and by night."

While maqam techniques long used to be passed along as musicians rubbed shoulders at ubiquitous Baghdad cafes, this is no longer the case.Instead, Mowaffaq al-Beyati, the head of the House of Maqam, advocates the creation of a school that teaches it to Iraqi youth.

"Maqam is one of the most difficult things to learn, and to sing, and this is especially true for young people today because they do not get any opportunity to hear it," he says.In Beyati's favour is UNESCO's addition in 2008 of maqam to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, meaning Iraq can apply for funds to establish just such a school.

UNESCO, when contacted by AFP, said that no such application had yet been made, however.At present, the only place interested students can learn maqam is at Baghdad's Institute of Musical Studies on the banks of the Tigris.

"Maqam is part of our identity, our roots -- we cannot forget that," notes Sattar Naji, the director of IMS, where one quarter of the curriculum focuses on maqam."The public will tire of you if all you play is commercial music, but they will remain faithful if you have mastered maqam," says Naji, who in addition to heading IMS, also plays oud in Gharib's ensemble.

Naji says he is hopeful of a future revival of maqam, when his country puts the constant violence behind it, and recalls the Iraqi proverb that notes, "A happy soul sings."

by Jacques Clement,

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Iran's Revenge on Iraqi Pilots

A brief paragraph in the mountain of Wikileaks documents shed a sliver of light on what officials claim is a viscious and coldly efficient Iranian campaign of revenge on Iraqi air force pilots who bombed Iran during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

"Many former Iraqi fighter pilots who flew sorties against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war were now on Iran's hit list (NOTE: According to [Name removed], Iran had already assassinated 180 Iraqi pilots. END NOTE)," the Dec. 14, 2009 confidential U.S. cable stated.

The systematic elimination of Iraqi air force pilots by Iran was a little noticed vendetta amid the crossfire of ethnic fighting and urban combat that convulsed Iraq in the years after the U.S. invasion toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.

Iran used the chaos in the aftermath of the invasion to settle scores from the Iran-Iraq war, an eight-year slug fest from 1980 to 1988 in which an estimated 500,000 Iranians and Iraqis died. The war was largely a bloody standoff that resembled World War I at times with trench warfare, poison gas, human wave and bayonet attacks.

Iran, however, has taken a special vengeance on the pilots of the Iraqi air force and the lawlessness that followed the collapse of Saddam's regime gave Iran its opportunity.

In addition to the 182 pilots who have been hunted down and killed by Iranian agents, the assassination campaign prompted another 800 Iraqi pilots to flee the country, according to statistics released by the Iraqi Defense Ministry.

The targeting of air force pilots began in Baghdad's largely Shiite neighborhood of Karradah and reached its peak in the holy month of Ramadan in 2005 when 36 pilots were gunned down in that neighborhood.

Residents of Karradah refer to that killing season as the Black Ramadan.

The Iranian fury was on display in the death of former pilot Sayyid Hussien, a Shiite who felt that he was relatively safe running a hardware store in the Sunni neighborhood of Ghazaliyah. He was wrong. Shiite militia dressed all in black and wearing masks shot him dead in a daylight hit, emptying an entire magazine of 30 bullets into Hussien's head.

During Hussien's funeral, his distraught mother Um Sayyid Hussien cried, "May Allah curse Iran. They took my son."

A pilot who has remained in Iraq told ABC News, "I took part in the Iraq-Iran war. We had many missions hitting targets inside Iran. It was war time."

The pilot asked that his name be withheld out of concern for his safety and for his family's safety.

"I had many of my fellow pilots get killed and the killer is not known, never been captured," he said. "I do not know why they are killing us. Just because we had to follow orders during war time?"

By the time of the U.S. invasion in 2003, the Iraqi air force was already crippled. Its planes were prevented from taking off by constant patrols of U.S. fighter jets. In an attempt to save his jets from being bombed, Saddam buried many of them in the desert.

"We felt like we had a broken wing," the pilot said. "We could not do a thing to defend or to show the ... pride we once had."

Then came the killing of pilots and the former flyer said he had to repeatedly change his residence, gave up his home in the Sunni area of Dora and now lives only in what he calls an undisclosed location.

Iranian officials in Baghdad and Washington did not respond to repeated calls for response to the allegations.

In a stark recogniton of the peril that Iraq's former fighter pilots face, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has offered the pilots a safe haven in the Kurdish cities of Irbil and Sulimaniyah. That is ironic because before the U.S. invasion, American pilots patrolled the area to make sure Iraqi pilots didn't venture into the Kurdish region.


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