Friday, April 3, 2009

Jewish Music in Iraq

In a modest home in Ramat Gan, a small group of elderly musicians have gathered to play. Abraham Salman, a blind kanoun player, works his fingers masterfully over the large zither-like instrument in his lap. Naim Rejwan strums at an ornate oud, while Baghdadi singer Abdu Sa'ada - known as the "Golden Voice" of Iraqi radio - intones Inta Omri by the legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kalthoum.

Each week the group gathers to recreate the music of their youth in Iraq, where they were once the country's most prominent musicians. Though their numbers are thinning, the work of these artists is being preserved on the Internet by Regine Basha, a Brooklyn-based curator and second-generation Iraqi Jew.

"It was just one of those things that no one talks about anymore. It seemed as though not only did people not know that there were Jews in Iraq very recently, but they also didn't know that they had this important contribution to the cultural makeup of the country," Basha said of her inspiration to create the Web site, tuningbaghdad.net.
 


Tuning Baghdad gathers original footage of gatherings such as the one in Ramat Gan, as well as old Super 8 home videos dug out of dusty boxes. The site also contains numerous audio clips and links to YouTube videos and other on-line materials that flesh out the once-vibrant world of Iraqi Jewish music.

It is a little-known fact that in the first half of the 20th century, most Iraqi musicians were Jews. At a 1932 Arabic music conference in Cairo, all of the Iraqi instrumentalists were Jewish. When the Iraqi Radio Orchestra was founded in 1936, all of its members were Jewish - except one. (JPOST)


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