November 03, 2012
November 03, 2012
The once quiet courtyards of Baghdad’s Institute of Musical Studies, located in the busy Sinak area, where violence was rife during the height of Iraq’s sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007, are thriving again as the Iraqi capital enjoys a noticeable ebb in violence.
Many of Iraq’s most talented musicians fled during the rule of Saddam Hussein, fearing persecution for their political views and suffering from a lack of funding and exposure if they refused to glorify the leader in their art.
Others left after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, escaping violence as war broke out. Concert venues were shuttered. Some musicians were threatened by the Iraqi arm of al Qaeda.
Now, gingerly, some musicians are making plans to come back, hoping to revive Iraq’s rich musical tradition on home soil.
And, Deputy Head of the Baghdad Institute of Musical Studies, Haider Shakir Haider, says there are many keen to learn.
“Following the change of the regime and because of the security situation and the fact that the area of al Sinak was a bad hot spot, some of the students who were at the time in their second, third or fourth years left for Syria while others migrated to European countries and so only 40-50 students remained at the institute. The main reason was because most of the students were afraid to come to this area and some of them were worried about the sweeping religious tide and the issue of haram or halal (whether an act is prohibited or not by Islam). But now, thanks to God, they have started to apply to the institute. Fifty people have applied this year and 50 students applied last year,” Haider said.
The issue of haram has been particularly divisive.
Founded in 1970, the state-funded Institute of Musical Studies was formed as a center to enrich Iraqi music and offers specializations in Iraqi musical heritage and history.
Students are taught to play traditional Iraqi music and the Iraqi maqam, a musical genre.
Traditional instruments such as the stringed santur, jawza, qanun, the lute-like oud, flute and violin-type kaman, are taught in an effort to keep alive a rich musical legacy disrupted by years of violence and unrest.
Teachers say the lessons only promote “decent” music.
“Music academics and professional musicians are against corrupted music. They don’t like that kind of music and they do not promote such kind of music. It has nothing to do with the heritage of our country and is not delivered in a classy way. I am definitely a religious man who will not tolerate dirty words and dissonant music that violates decency,” said Nassim, who is also a member of the Iraqi national committee of music
A new breed of militants, who target people practicing arts they consider “un-Islamic”, has led several worried parents to withdraw their children from the school, especially if they are girls, Haider said.
Some students were attacked and there was a time when some students hid their instruments in plastic bags in order to get to school, he said.
Shahad Jammal, who is at the institute studying jawza – a string instrument made from a coconut shell – is frustrated she doesn’t have more female classmates.
She says she was lucky to be born to a musical family and urges other females to defy social barriers and follow her lead.
“Not all the parents let their daughters come and play music. Unfortunately some of them view it as haram (prohibited). But it is not a forbidden thing because when one feels upset or gets distressed, they listen to music. That is why I call music the food of the soul. They (the parents) should be proud of their daughters, especially when there are no female musicians in Iraq, especially in recent years. Before, we there was, but now we don’t have any. I am the only one and I suffer for it. Why am I the only one (to study music)? Why don’t other females come? I hope that those who see me will follow suit,” Jammal said.
The institute has still not recovered its pre-2003 enrolments, when the student body numbered over 300.
Deputy Head Haider says he hopes the government will open more theatres and promote music to help rehabilitate the creative sector.
“How can we form talent in the absence of interest from the government? The students study for five years and when they graduated they will either be employed by the Musical Department (of the Ministry for Culture) or not. And if not they join the army or police while they are completing their studies and so they become just normal people that have a taste for music. The government could create solutions by first increasing the number of musical theatres and paying more attention to musicians and to the condition of the institute,” he said.
Iraq has a rich musical history and before Saddam Hussein there was a bohemian musical atmosphere in old Baghdad with over a dozen concerts in the capital every day.
Students at Baghdad’s Institute of Musical Studies could be among
Source: Al Arabiya