Al-Madfai reminisced about the 1970s when young people were falling in love with his music and rediscovered their own heritage in his lyrics. Photo: Courtesy of Ilham Al Madfai
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Renowned Iraqi singer, composer and guitarist Ilham Al Madfai released a new single on Thursday titled Iskuni Ya Jirah, a song about healing wounds. Al Madfai is in Erbil today where he told Rudaw that the song has been in the making for years and derives from a poem he found in a book more than four decades ago.
“This is one of the popular compositions that I did in the ‘70s,” Al Madfai said in an exclusive interview with Rudaw. “And the book of Aboul-Qacem Echebbi, I was walking on the street and saw it there and I bought it for 100 fils. It impressed me.”
Al Madfai, born to Kurdish parents in Baghdad in 1942, released his new single during a seminar with musicians and artists in Erbil.
Al Madfai is known for combining traditional Arabic music with western instruments and melodies, particularly the guitar, which he is seen playing in almost all of his songs.
The new single, says the singer, has room for creativity thanks to the spiritual nature of the lyrics and the poet’s own Sufi tendencies.
“When I first was reading the words of so many poems it clicked something in my mind,” Al Madfai recalled the first time he thought of turning the poem of the Tunisian poet Echebbi into a song. “He is a Sufi person and most of his poems are sort of spiritual. This one is strictly lyrics and because the poet was a sufi there is a lot of space to think.”
The new single is recorded in the Lebanese capital Beirut and the man behind the project is Michel Fadhil who, Al Madfai said, loved the song and recorded it in the Ukraine with a 115-member orchestra.
Al Madfai says that his music works for all ages and people across the world, including non-Arabs, love his music. “My music works for all ages,” he said. “Sometimes I am surprised when someone who is four years old can sing chilchil alaya ruman. She is American. I was surprised.”
For him however, today’s single is personal. It is a tribute to the soul of his wife.
“It is something that affected my family which is important to me,” Al Madfai revealed. “I lost my wife. It is not the only thing that I can repay for such an incident. Because nothing can replace the soul of my second partner in life. Very unfortunate and happened all of a sudden.”
Al-Madfai reminisced about the 1970s when young people were falling in love with his music and rediscovered their own heritage in his lyrics.
“At the time we were in an era where we were becoming popular among young people and the young generation who discovered something in their heritage,” he said. “They started to feel what these words mean to them. They started feeling it and dancing with it.”
Al Madfai believes that mixing instruments and melodies of different cultures is like mixing colors that would help the listeners’ imagination and the singer’s connection with his audience.
“It is a very important case to transform Arabic songs into classic poems to be accompanied with a guitar, for example,” the Iraqi singer said of his style. “It is not like two colors put together. It is a thousand colors in a minute. The mood must put you in the exact position and people can understand and figure your body language.”
Al Madfai who has worked and lived in many countries and taken his music across the world now resides in Jordan. He believes that despite advanced audio and video technology and myriads of television channels, music in Iraq is not in a good state.
“There are studios and televisions, I don’t know how many televisions there are, but the outcome is not promising,” he lamented. “They choose some young voices, but their influence on the music itself has become more mixed with different colors each one spoiling the other color.”
Al Madfai dismissed concerns that mixing Arabic and Western music may dilute local cultures, citing his own successes as the best example.
He has been nominated twice by the BBC as the musician of the Middle East and for two years he won platinum for his CDs. His most recent performance was at the Albert Hall in England where he reconnected with some of his English musician friends. “I was happy to be there to expose these traditional Iraqi songs.”