After Saddam and war, Iraq's musicians look to home
By Sylvia Westall
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - With as many as 15 concerts scheduled in an evening it used to be hard to decide which to attend, and pockets of Baghdad came alive with the beat of drums and twang of Iraqi ouds.
But that was a long time ago.
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.
"It does not seem strange now. They call me, they send me messages, they ask me what I have seen," renowned oud player Naseer Shamma said after a concert in Baghdad, his second in the country after nearly two decades in exile.
"And I say yes, now it is time to work, to help the Iraqi people. Of course every Iraqi musician needs to be here."
A legend among lovers of the region's traditional instruments, Shamma has played the lute-like oud since the age of 11. Continued...