Billboard reports on the return of pop music to Iraq:
- Iraqi pop stars, tainted by association with Saddam Hussein’s rule, are slowly making a comeback, but, as in politics, it’s the exiles who are hogging the limelight.
Iraq once had dozens of young pop singers, but during the 1990s they had to sing the praises of the dictator, forcing many to flee abroad and others to give up altogether.
….As he sits talking in his bare Baghdad office, which lacks even a telephone line, Nizar al-Khaled, one of the young stars of the previous era, walks in.
Singing under Saddam caused nothing but problems, Khaled said, usually because of his vindictive son Uday who ran the al-Shebab youth and entertainment television channel.
“Another singer, Haitham Yousef, and I were really popular with the girls, so Uday stopped us appearing on television. Then last year they produced a list of singers who had not sung for Saddam yet [on television], so I had to do it — twice,” he said.
Yousef fled the country after Uday had a group of girls beat him up at a concert, Khaled said. Former workers at Shebab recall other incidents, one involving Uday urinating on a singer.
….In another part of town, Jawdat Mutashar, an owner of Studio Hikmat, is proclaiming the rebirth of Iraqi pop.
“Production now is stronger and we’ve got loads of orders. It’s a revival,” he says in the high-tech studio’s office. “We even have Syrian and Jordanian singers coming here to record, partly because it’s cheaper. When the situation in Baghdad stabilizes things will really take off.”
Downstairs, Iraqi star Salah al-Bahr is about to enter the studio to record another song for his new album.
The 33-year-old has a deal with a Saudi recording company, which will also shoot video clips for his songs in Dubai. In the lucrative world of Arab pop, that means Bahr has made it.
“I don’t do politics because people are sick of it, but I do sing about the new Iraq and freedom,” says Bahr, who spent most of his time in France before Saddam’s government fell.
The return of serious frivolity to a culture that has only known death and repression for 20+ years is among the most promising signs.