Iraqi Maqam

Iraqi Jawza player Salih Shemayyil at the First Cairo Congress of Arab Music (1932)

When London-based Honest Jon’s Records compilation Give Me Love: Songs of the Brokenhearted – Baghdad, 1925-29 appeared last year, it was a ear-opening and mind-expanding glimpse into a world few of us in the U.S. had even imagined – the glorious music of Iraq as it was recorded generations ago by musicians long since gone. For many, it and the Choubi Choubi comp on Sublime Frequencies may have provided a first look at Iraqi musical culture, since so little else (Munir Bashir and Rahim AlHaj excluded) has ever been available in the West.

But just in the past few week and seemingly out of the clear, blue sky comes the staggering Iraqi Maqam blog and its accompanying YouTube channel which focus exclusively on the uniquely Iraqi take on maqam, the umbrella of elevated Arab classical musics. Drawing mainly from exceedingly scarce recordings of the 1920s-30s, already Iraqi Maqam has provided a dizzying wealth of musicological, biographical and anecdotal information in both Arabic and English to hours and hours worth of virtuosic and deeply moving recordings (including truly precious translations of the poems sung), profusely illustrated with period photographs. That such a monumental, thoroughly-researched and thoughtfully-presented body of work even exists, not to mention that it is appearantly a free gift to mankind, is fortifying and exciting stuff in a hard, old world.

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