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The History of Iraqi Pop Music
by Alex Cosper (5/30/13)

The popular music of Iraq is a mix of tradional music and broader Arabic music from places like Egypt and Lebanon. Kurdish music is also part of the established core. Western music such as rock and rap with English lyrics has integrated with Iraq's pop culture over the past few decades. The oud is a musical instrument and symbol that has been associated with traditional Iraqi music for centuries. The Musical Studies Institute in Baghdad is one of the nation's key development centers for people seeking careers in music. A local television show in Baghdad called Iraqi Star, which is patterned after American Idol, also helps expose new talent.

Maqam is a slow tempo form of traditional minor key Iraqi music, which traces back about 400 years in Arab culture. The term refers to "melodic modes" throughout the Arab world. Instruments used to produce this music include the santur, jawza, tabla and riqq. The santur, also called a hammered dulcimer, is an ancient string instrument. The jawza resembles a fiddle, the tabla is a drum and the riqq is like a tambourine. The music is meant to be improvised by performers who follow traditional rules. Well known maqam singers in Iraq include Nazem Al-Ghazali, Ahmed Zaydan and Mohammad al-Qubbanchi. The soft ballad called a pesteh is sometimes played followed a maqam. Pestehs were popularized by radio in the 20th century.

The oud is still widely used in Iraq and throughout Arab culture. The pear-shaped instrument is built like a guitar with turning keys for strings that run along a fretless neck. Historians associate the oud with the European lute, as both instruments have common roots. Well known oud players include Ahmed Kukhtar, Naseer Shamma and Sahar Taha. Many oudists were forced into exhile during the 2003 invasion of Iraq in which anti-imperialist pro-socialist Ba'athists came under attack.

Many Iraqi musicians lived in fear during the war thoughout the 2000s and kept their musical ambitions private to avoid attacks from insurgents. Musical development in Iraq is encouraged by the government's culture ministry. Performing in public requires permission from the culture ministry. The popular music of Iraq was controlled by the government throughout the administration of Saddam Husseim, who banned certain music. The war led to the closure of many music stores and venues that became targets for terrorists.

Some of the most popular musical acts in Iraq in the 21st century include Shatha Hassoun, Rahma Mezher and Rida Al Abdullah. Shatha Hassoun rose to fame from a musical competition on a television show called Star Academy Arab World. Known as "the daughter of Mesopotamia," her popularity has expanded throughout the Middle East. Rahma Mezher rose to stardom from a different Arab television show called Super Star 2. Rida Al Abdullah escalated to fame in the Arab world with a series of hits including a song that protested the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel called "Weinkom Ya Arab."

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