About the Comforts and Sorrows of Exile
In August 2003, Deutsche Welle's World Music Department commissioned a group of primarily Iraqi musicians to write some new music. The project resulted in a CD recorded in April and a concert being held in Bonn. Suzanne Watt reports
Saad Thamir, Bassem Hawar and Furat Qaddouri came to Germany from Iraq four years ago. Since then, the traditional Iraqi musicians have teamed up with Indian percussionist, Arup Sen Gupta and German jazz saxophonist and clarinet-player Christiane Fuchs to create the group, Lagash.
Suzanne Watt was at the Deutsche Welle-sponsored concert in Bonn to hear the fusion of traditional Iraqi music with a western flavour...
It's an unusual combination – the traditional Iraqi Djoze – a six-string Violin made from half a coconut shell played from the musician's knee and the 26-string zither-like Qanum that's played by rapidly plucking it's strings, together with a piano, saxophone and clarinet. And on the far side an Indian percussionist sits on the floor playing his 2-pair tabla.
Despite the individual instruments all producing their own distinctive sounds, the ensemble's sound is rounded and rich... perhaps best described by the group's percussionist Arup Zen Gupta.
"The pieces are quite harmonious. It's not like torn apart – something from that, a little bit from this and a little bit from that – it's, you know, complete", says Gupta. "These are complete pieces where each musician has his field to improvise and contribute his part to the whole."
Iraqi Maccam themes, Western harmonies and Indian rhythms
"I would say the attitude which is behind this concept of the band is pretty much jazz-like", he continues to explain. "The music is pretty much based on the traditional Iraqi Maccam themes but it is enriched by using Western harmonies, Western Jazz themes and Indian rhythms."
The group Lagash is named after an ancient Mesopotamian city which was once at the centre of Sumerian civilisation. It was a meeting place for people from the area, a place where artistic expression was welcomed.
Furat Qadduori, the group's Qanum player, says Lagash has tried to uphold the traditions implied by the group's name...
"The idea for our group is the mixture between all civilisation and all cultures, so we really play Iraqi music, Iraqi Maccam, but we mix that with the Indian with Arup and also with the Jazz music in Europe with Christina", Qadduori explains. "So this is the beautiful idea to mix those three cultures."
"And it clicked from the first time", he adds, "because you know the concept of rhythm is universal and so you can just play."
Despite the mix, Lagash's repertoire is centred round traditional Iraqi music and is influenced by the strong Iraqi tradition of story-telling.
The group members were reluctant to talk about the country's current circumstances or why they left Iraq, but Qanun player Furat did offer this insight into what was necessary to be a successful musician in Iraq during the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
Playing music to please the tyrant
"I think it's very easy if you want to be famous especially with Saddam. You can sing to Saddam, you can make a melody to Saddam and that's why too many people became famous, but they are not really musicians."
Performing traditional Iraqi music may not attract the large public other forms of music might, however, the members of Lagash are nonetheless quietly confident about the audience's response to their music so far...
"I would say the audience was quite appreciative and very enthusiastic through all the concerts we have played during the last 2.5 to 3 years. Slowly, you know, we are slowly getting famous", says Gupta and laughs heartily.
Furat Qadduori welcomes European audience's appreciation of different cultures, but his vision isn't about fame and fortune.
"It's my dream if we could play like here in Germany, if we could play there also in Baghdad. We return and we play the same mixture in Baghdad, with the European, with the Jazz, with the Indian elements. So I hope everything will be alright in Iraq soon, so that we can play there, not only in Europe because we are Iraqis."
DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE © 2004