Winter 2010 | ArteZine

(Re)Tuning Baghdad


Tuning Baghdad brings together a growing archive of live video performances, audio clips and historical information on Iraqi Jewish musicians and the music scene that was displaced from Baghdad in the late 1940s. As an alternative to making a linear documentary film, the website features four video chapters along with relevant audio and textual links to the complex histories that interweave this community with the history of the region and to the Iraqi Maqam. The aim is to continue to build this virtual home for a music scene divided by political borders.

Many of the musicians you will see on Tuningbaghdad.net are now based in an Iraqi suburb of Tel Aviv, where they play only amongst themselves, without connection to the Arab audiences they once entertained. Amongst them is Abraham Salman, the renowned blind Khanoun player who remains popular throughout the Middle East to this day, yet from his present geo-political location he is a blind man playing to deaf ears.

Throughout my filming/recording of these musical gatherings (I access them through my father, an avid oud player originally from Basra), I reaized how the tuning sessions became, in themselves, a collective way to tune back into Iraq – a way back through that dissonant quarter tone often mistaken as ‘off-key’ to Westerners.

For ArteEast I stage a You Tube search for a particular Iraqi song, ‘Fog il Nahal’ that is featured in the first chapter of Tuningbaghdad.net (sung by Iman and Naim) and that is beloved throughout the Middle East (though the song’s original composer is hotly debated and remains unconfirmed). As a venue, You Tube offers that startling flat and layered history where conflicting genres, running commentary and collective nostalgia -along with misinformation and hidden truths -may co-exist in silent agreement.


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