Monday, June 05, 2006

Al-Kuwaiti musicians find renewed acclaim

Erez Schweitzer of Haaretz tells the remarkable story of the al Kuwaiti brothers, whose popularity is now resurgent in both Israel and Iraq, where Saddam had them officially erased from cultural history :

Salah and Daoud al Kuwaiti never hid the fact that they were Jewish. Although the official attitude toward Jews in Iraq was hostile, they became favorites of King Razi (of Iraq) and were even asked to establish an orchestra for Iraqi national radio, which broadcast from the king's palace. "

"In effect, the Jews dominated Iraqi music (says Salah's son Shlomo). Out of 250 leading instrumentalists in Baghdad in the 1940s, only three were Muslims. There was a historical reason for this. The Ottoman government in Iraq in the 19th century was fanatic, and did not allow the Muslims to play music, claiming that it was contemptible work. The Jews then entered the vacuum that was created; they were the ones with the patience required to learn the complex Arab music. Even during the time of my father and his brother, the attitude toward the Jews was ambivalent. Officially they were discriminated against, but in everyday life they didn't feel it. In any event, thanks to music, the Al Kuwaiti brothers became favorites of the royal family. Mubarak al Sabah of Kuwait even invited them to perform at his wedding. Actually, my father named one of his sons, my brother, Sabah, after him."

"This glorious career was cut short by the brothers' decision to immigrate to Israel during the major wave of aliyah (immigration) in the early 1950s. From the moment they left Iraq, attitudes toward them changed, as they did toward the Jews altogether. "The process of erasing them from Iraqi history was gradual," says Shlomo al Kuwaiti. "During the first years, local artists, Muslims, began to appropriate some of their songs. Slowly but surely, their names disappeared from the radio programs, although the songs themselves were still played. The process came to a climax after Saddam Hussein came to power. In 1972 he established a committee in the broadcasting authority, and one of its orders was to erase the names of the Al Kuwaiti brothers from every official publication and from the curricula in the academy of music. From then on, the songs that they wrote were labeled 'of folk origin.' Incidentally, the director of the broadcasting authority during that period was Mohammed al Sahaf, who was the Iraqi minister of information during the period of the second American invasion of Iraq, and is remembered for his grotesque television appearances."

"The Kuwaiti brothers were not treated properly in Israel, either. After undergoing a difficult absorption process, they performed on the Voice of Israel radio broadcasts in Arabic, but felt they were being forcefully pushed into a marginal ghetto of Oriental music, which the establishment treated with hostility. "They had a weekly program on the Voice of Israel in Arabic, the broadcast of a live performance that was very popular both among native Iraqis in Israel and in the neighboring countries," says Shlomo al Kuwaiti, "but they lived with an unpleasant sense of humiliation. In Iraq they had left behind a fortune, and were at home in the king's palace, and here they were treated with suspicion and arrogance.

"If that wasn't bad enough, it hurt them to hear their songs on Arab radio stations without any mention of their names, at best, and with their songs accredited to another artist, at worst."

Read article in full


Jack said...

Thanks for the great post. I just added a post about Saleh Al Kuwaiti videos on YouTube to my Jewish Music blog, Teruah Jewish Music. I appreciated the background info.

Unknown said...

You have an interesting music blog,Jack.
Thanks for the credit.
Point of no return

Zaydoun said...

You make no mention of the time the Al-Kuwaiti brothers spent living and performing in Kuwait itself (hence their name)