Bombs rain down on Fallujah and suicide bombers slaughter would-be police recruits. A radical Moslem cleric attacks the interim government and his armed militia stalks the streets. As the Iraqi bloodbath continues the world can only look on in a kind of stunned disbelief. Isn’t this war supposed to be over?
Some people might think it remarkable that it takes a terrible war to put a country like Iraq on the musical map. But perhaps this is only natural. In an effort to extract something positive from all the death and destruction visited on coalition forces and on innocent Iraqis it is hardly surprising that we turn to music and culture to provide us with something more reassuring. Music can at least remind us that there is more to Iraq and its people than burning vehicles and chaos.
It was against the backdrop of continuing bloody fighting in Iraq that Fawzy Al-Aiedy, an Iraqi musician, found himself sitting behind the stage at the WOMAD festival in Reading, England, last July.
Fawzy Al-Aiedy was born in Basra in southern Iraq in the 1950s. The regime of Saddam Hussein was so fearful that, like many Iraqis, he has had no choice but to live in exile and to denounce from a distance the tyranny and abuse of human rights in his native Iraq. A modest and gently spoken man, Al-Aiedy spoke in French about his life and music, his rapid words falling over each other.
Despite living in France for 30 years Al-Aiedy is fiercely proud of being an Iraqi and passionate about Basra, the city where he was born and grew up:
“In ancient times Iraq was the cradle of civilization,” he says. “Mankind’s first cities were situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The land has had a rich culture for thousands of years. Basra is a beautiful city, with architecture in every style and from every period that you can imagine. As a major seaport which opens out onto the Arabian Gulf it is a city dedicated to the maritime life.”
His initial musical training was not quite what you would expect for a boy from a modest family:
“I am a player of the oud, an instrument that is traditional in Iraq, an instrument which is over 3,000 years old. But, as a student at music school in Iraq, the first instrument that I learned to play was the oboe and I became a musician in the European tradition. The music of Bach, Mozart and Handel was a great revelation to