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Arts, Music

Maqamat, Jewish singers, Egyptian influence, visits Iraq, popular poetry

Iraqi singers enjoy great popularity in the Arab world. Jewish singers and musicians made an important contribution to Baghdad’s culture from the 1920s to 1951, when most of them left the country. Among them were the brothers Saleh and Da’ud al-Kuwaiti. In the 1940s and 1950s the four most important types of music in Baghdad were Maqamat, Monologat, Pestat, and Budhiyat. Maqamat, a form of classical Arab music, is a kind of high-pitched, sophisticated Arab blues, accompanied by ‘ud, violins, and drums. Monologat consists of nonclassical songs that include elements of humor and cynicism. Pestat is popular poetry sung to music. Budhiyat is a hymnlike type of music reminiscent of Buddhist chanting.

From the late 1940s to the late 1970s tastes in music shifted from traditional Maqamat to a mix of Maqamat and songs based on lighter, more popular Arab music. Uniquely Iraqi styles blended gradually with other Arab styles, mainly under Egyptian influence. Nazim al-Ghazali, who was popular in the 1950s and 1960s, was the main representative of this trend, although most of his songs were in the classical Maqamat style. Beginning in the late 1970s a combination of Arab and European music was introduced, creating Arab pop music.

Important singers of the late 20th century include Ilham al-Madfa‘i, Kazim al-Sahir, Sa‘dun Jaber, Fu’ad Salem, and Haytham Yusuf. Ilham al-Madfa‘i, who lives in the United States, usually accompanies his singing with a Spanish guitar. His main contribution is in modernizing old Maqamat songs. Kazim al-Sahir, who lives in the Persian Gulf area but visits Iraq often, combines traditional Arab and modern Western singing styles. Most of his songs are personal, but some of them are political, notably “Jerusalem,” “Risala ila al-‘Alam” (“A Message to the World”), and “Baghdad.” The music of the late Nazim al-Ghazali is still popular, as are the songs of his wife, Salima Murad (or Salima Pasha).

Bedouin songs, accompanied by a simple string instrument, the rababah, are popular in the countryside. Since the late 20th century, Bedouin music, songs, and dance have also been popular in Baghdad, owing to the rural background of the ruling elite.



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