‘We Love Life But Death Loves Us More: The Pain And Power Of Iraqi Music
" Our troops were patrolling our area in al-Qaim, near the Syrian border, when I heard an American Humvee approaching." Iraqi music producer Usfox recalled his childhood memories during the Iraq war in 2004. "I heard that infectious beat through the open windows and later found out it was 50 Cent's In Da Club. My jaw dropped.”
This unexpected but inspiring encounter was the first step for UsFoxx to become one of the many beat producers and makers in Baghdad. The Place of Music in Iraqi Culture - 21 Tishreen Rebellion - Rap, Techno, Experimental Music, Jazz and more.
At his new studio in Baghdad, Usfoxx says his music ranges from "house" to afrobeats. Having relocated to India from Iraq after the Islamic State attack in 2015 and returned to Iraq in 2020 to fight Covid lockdowns, music was an outlet for his adventurous ears.”
Like many of his contemporaries, Usfox was self-taught in music production, and the internet and satellite broadcasts he received after his ban by Saddam Hussein's regime allowed his generation to embrace new influences and create a new aesthetic. He provided the benefit for 2022's Iraqi Cypher, which brings together the sharp social lyrics of nine Iraqi rap stars: Kira The Blurryface, Armando Rap, Nayomi, Disser, KC Hamada, AlRong, Genesis, Odd Khalida and El Seen . . Play along with Drill and London-based DJ Nooriyah Saudi, who played UsFoxx tracks at the popular Boiler Room last December. But there is still confusion about the success. “Iraqis have suffered many wounds that have not healed. We Iraqis survive, we love life, even if death loves us more,” Usfox lamented.
Basora, Huffs, whose sound oscillates between atmospheric pop, afrobeats and trip-hop, as melancholic as the image of the beatmaker. This explains the motivation. "When I'm depressed, it's because of things in the past, and the reason we're in the present is because of the past. So when I make music, I find that I can convey my feelings to the audience; my music.” can make her feel the sadness or the happiness that I feel.
Huffs began his career almost 10 years ago on the online forum Rap Battle, where he combined his creativity with a philosophical and emotional approach to his hybrid sound. "If someone insults me, I don't react immediately. I relax, then I make music and I write about that pain,” he says, smiling. His single "Kavabis" (Arabic for nightmares) is based on a terrible moment. It features found sounds and rhythms "to smooth out the brutality of your whirlwind rhythm."
Due to the conservative nature of the society, there are no concerts in Basra and the only places where non-classical styles of music are played are in public parks.
Hafs released several albums on YouTube, the most important Iraqi music channel. More recently, Shlona has been working on an independent label called Narsi, an independent label founded by Canadian-Iraqi rapper and professor Narsi, which Spotify only founded in 2021 and which was formed to support releases in a country where production physical music relies on piracy. . Producer Abdulism, another part of London's Iraqi music scene and a big part of Shlonac Records, explains the logistical hurdles in Iraq: Often there's no choice but to remove MP3s from YouTube. Another problem is the lack of PayPal.
But the Covid-19 lockdown has further strained relationships between musicians in Iraq and around the world. Unable to work with people in London, Abdulism joined radio station Iraq-e-Fela, owner of an Iraqi label based in Delhi and DJ From Chobi to Chalgira , more nostalgic tunes. , Iraqi singers, rappers and football anthems,” says Abdulims. UsFoxx also attended and said: “We have given all the instructions and information about Iraq. Iraq-e-Fela began "heart surgery - something that heals injured listeners -" and committed suicide. It was crazy."
On the other hand, British artist and Iraqi manager Nazar Risafi works with London-based Iraqi duo Tribe of Monsters based in Amman, Jordan. Her follow-up single "Cypher" took the voice of popular Iraqi singer Sajada Obeid and mixed it with Cardi B and Gucci Mane and mixed it with a trip-hop groove and samples of Iraqi drums and Arabic instruments like the oud and nah.
As Risafi explains, the two-year-long Tischreen uprising had a major impact on the Iraqi youth movement on the streets, demanding a new country beyond sectarianism and an Iraqi identity. "We started seeing raps about the revolution on the internet and on the streets," he says. "That's when people started to socialize. In 2020 you see artists in Iraq collaborating with artists outside of Iraq.” In the face of government corruption and sectarianism, economic failure, unemployment and international intervention, music in Iraq is deviant and interventionist.
Monsters The Monster Tribe's debut single, Deil Awaj (The Crooked Tail), chronicled the daily struggles of young people in the streets during the riot, followed by Albo October, a protest that left more than 700 dead and more than 17,000 injured became. . "We salute you children of October, the Iraqi flag is flying above our heads and all the corrupt politicians are under our feet," Amir Shami said. The duo is preparing a collection entitled Made in Iraq, which will showcase the cream of the Iraqi rap scene. At least there are rappers like Naomi or PC.Co in the diaspora, but Iraqi music is not only electronic music and rap.
In the United States, Iraqi-American trumpeter and jazz musician Amir El Safar has performed with the Two Rivers Ensemble. El Safar, a sextet of international and Southwest Asian musicians innovating between American jazz and the makam modal system, explains that “the melodic melodies sung in Iraq for hundreds of years since the Abbasid period  AD 1258 and have been further developed.” For him, playing this uniquely Iraqi music is the country's way of being a political gesture that reminds the listener that they are suffering. "I'm glad some people remember and recognize the horrors, but it seems like the world has evolved [a lot]. We still have to think about the impact on ordinary Iraqis.”
Returning from his first tour of Iraq in 20 years, he was mesmerized by a group of 40 musicians under the age of 35. And keep the heart close.”
Nadine Al Khalidi is an Iraqi multi-instrumentalist and singer in a Swedish band playing a different style. Al Khalidi vacillates between elegant urban Arabic tarab music and western folk and classical arrangements, adding a touch of Iraqi chobbi . folk rhythms from the region to Iraq), jazz and North African rhythms.
Raised in a family of artists, he recalls the sounds of sirens and bombs from his childhood during the Gulf War with weekly tours of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra. Then he says: “Sanctions have been imposed on Iraq. Dictatorship and constant surveillance followed, then invasion. The 2003 Iraq war forced al-Khalidi and his sister to flee as refugees. He told me about his home. He learned to play the violin early on at the music and ballet school in Baghdad, but had to abandon his music studies because of the war. A bar owner from Serbia encouraged him to sing in Arabic: “I had no responsibility. My parents died and I wanted to live. I dreamed of playing guitar and there I was, playing my favorite music for the first time. a megaphone and a microphone.” He meets his last partner, Gabriel Hermanson. .
In 2022, he collaborated with Egyptian poet Hazem Wofi on the album Ekhaf (I'm Afraid of Him), which "helped me understand how to write from his personal experience". The album is about Iraqis, Arabic speakers and like-minded people, young Iraqis marching through the streets and "new systems of friendship and support forming along the way". One of the most interesting songs is Sedra for a Mosul immigrant, which Al Khalidi introduced at a performance in 2018. "He interrupted me while I was singing in Arabic. He later told me that he saw both of his parents killed by ISIS. He asked me to sing about him and this song is for him.
Based in southern Europe, the founder of British-Iraqi label Khayam Alami Nawa Recordings draws on the past to look to the future for experimental and creative work. Alami studied oud in London and practiced Iraqi maqam , which formed the basis of his debut album Resonance/Dissonance, "but I've always wanted to understand what Iraqi song is and what's in its mark," he said. “We can develop new ideas by learning from the past, but that doesn't mean rehashing the past or taking it at face value. What I want to achieve is the essence of something.” He says that hip-hop, jazz or other forms of art and music inspired by African-American artists had to determine their future based on ownership and commitment to their past. Alami turned to Babylonian and Sumerian manuscripts from the 9th and 10th centuries to relate them to modern culture. He examines their relationships.
Iraqis like Usfox and Hafs have a deep need to connect with the outside world, and that same Iraqi diaspora needs to connect with their homeland. Alami recalled his collaboration with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq a few years ago. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to interact with this generation that has faced these dangers. An entire family including a child was killed in an air raid. It seems to be telling us that we are not used to what this generation has been through. But I've learned that regardless of our position, we need to think about our investments. He said he will contribute by "giving others the opportunity to do other work."
El Safara wonders "how to connect the reformed jazz scene to Iraq" and the same goes for Al Khalidi. "I want to play with Taraband in Iraq, but I will return to Sweden." "Every Iraqi has a story about why they had to leave," Abdulmus explained. "The question of yield is very complicated and concerns high-performance structures."
Despite the challenges, Iraqi musicians affirm the diversity of their country's identity and surprisingly enrich the musical repertoire. The Iraqi government also seems to have arrived. Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani has given the green light for the opening of the Baghdad Opera House. One of the oldest symphony orchestras in the world could be an expression of our world's culture and creativity, which is clearly thriving in Iraq.