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Iraq

Geography and Topography

Capital: Baghdad

Population: 30,399,572 people

Currency: Iraqi Dinar

Area: 438,317 km2

Language: Arabic, Kurdish

Ethnic Groups: Arabs (75%), Kurds (15-20%), Turkoman, Assyrian & Other (5%)

Religion: Shia Islam 65%, Sunni Islam 35%, Christianity (5%)

History

Iraq is a country in Western Asia which runs across most of the Northwestern end of the Zagros Mountain Range, the east of the Syrian Desert and the north of the Arabian Desert. Iraq shares borders with six other nations. Syria lies to the northwest, Turkey lies to the north, Iran lies to the East, Jordan is in the Southwest and Kuwait & Saudi Arabia are in the South. Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates run through the center of Iraq resulting in agriculturally capable land which is in stark contrast to the desert landscapes that comprise most of Western Asia.

Iraq has one of the world’s oldest cultural histories and possesses a very rich traditional heritage. Iraq is recognized for its strong artistic tradition and the nation is known for its famed poets, painters, sculptors who are among the best in the Arab world. Iraq was once part of the famed ancient region known as Mesopotamia. The term Mesopotamia when translated from Greek literally means “the land between two rivers”. Mesopotamia is considered to be the cradle of early civilization. Occupying the modern day area of Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran, Mesopotamia was the birthplace of various revolutionary items and ideologies. These include writing, law and the wheel.

Performing Arts

Music

Iraqi music spans numerous ethnic groups and musical genres. The music of Iraq includes musical styles from Arabic, Assyrian, Turcoman, Armenian, Roma and Kurdish culture. Iraqi music has also been influenced by modern developments such Pop, Rock, Soul and Urban music.

The most recognizable instruments in traditional Iraqi music are:

Oud

The oud is a short-neck fretless lute with five double-courses of strings tuned in fourths and traditionally played with an eagle’s quill. The oud is an ancestor of the European lute and functions as a bass instrument. The oud, unlike many other plucked stringed instruments, does not have a fretted neck. This allows the player to be more expressive by using slides and vibrato.  This development is relatively recent as ouds still had frets in AD 1100 and they gradually lost them by AD 1300.

Santur

The Santur is a Persian hammered dulcimer which is a stringed musical instrument. It contains a trapezoidal sounding board with strings stretched over it. The body of the instrument is generally made out of exotic woods. The Persian classical santur has 72 strings. Different variations of the santur and hammered dulcimers are utilized throughout the world.

Rebab

The rebab refers to a three-stringed instrument which is bowed.  The hand-carved and highly ornamented rebab gets its resonance from a membrane or skin which is stretched tightly across the instrument’s body.  The bow is slack until the player creates tension by pulling the hairs tight.  The rebab is held vertically when played.  Both the sound and playing style of the rebab is borrowed from the Chinese erhu, or two-stringed “violin.”

Classical Iraqi Music

Iraqi music is very much intertwined with classical poetry thus any discussion of the music of Iraq must also consider the nation’s poetic traditions. Poetry forms a large part of the art of the Iraqi people and many of their poems are sung as lyrics in classical folk songs. In the past, music was generally played at social gatherings of men in the community. This has since changed as the modern world has brought about sound recording technology. Today, Iraqi musicians are invited to perform at weddings and other concert venues.

Iraqi maqâm

” The Iraqi maqâm – which should not be confused here with the term in use for the Arab musical mode – is a vocal genre based on the succession of sung passages and quta’ or vocal pieces, on the linking up of modes and modulations and on the use of poetic forms and specific rhythms following an order established by tradition. While all the elements making up the maqâm must be respected by the performer, he nevertheless preserves a certain liberty which allows him to make personal additions. ”   Schéhérazade Qassim Hassan

Baghdad music has been made famous because of the Baghdad lute school though it represents a trend which is relatively recent, eclectic and not that popular in the country. However the Iraqi Maqam is at the basis of all urban musical expression and concerns both profanes as well as sacred milieux.

Dance

Kawliya

The Kawliya is originally a dance of nomadic communities otherwise known as Gypsies from Iraq. Gypsy literally means ‘Kawleya’ in Arabic which is where the name of the dance derives from. The dance is a very important part of the Iraqi dance culture however it is not originally an Iraqi dance and has been adopted by Iraquis as their own recently. The dance style is highly energetic involving a lot of intricate hair spins and tosses.

There are many other Iraqi dances such as Basrawi, Khanjar and Chobi. Chobi for example is an Assyrian dance found in Iraqi music. Those dances are performed by Assyrians, mostly on occasions such as weddings. Other dances are performed by other minorities such as the Kurds as well.

 

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