‘Media exposes chaos and suffering, neglects Iraqi art and culture’

Gwalior, Dec 26 (IANS) Political chaos, death, destruction and suffering dominates the media portrayal of Iraq and its culture and art scene is completely neglected, according to Iraqi musician Osama Abdulrasol.

“The media across the world only speaks of Iraq in terms of war and sadness in that land. Hundreds of artistic things have originated in Iraq but the press exposes just one segment that is the political conflicts and the negative repercussions,” the composer and producer told IANS in an interview.

“…That way people forget the value of Iraqis,” he said.

Abdulrasol was recently here with Turkish musician Johannus Sahin to perform at the Tansen Samaroh organised by the Madhya Pradesh Culture Ministry’s Kala Parishad to celebrate the universal language of music.

According to him, politicians don’t want culture to be served and if it is to be served it has to be manipulated through them.

He said: “We are trying to revive the exquisite art by performing at such festivals. Our main goal is to showcase a positive side of Iraq and bring another image through music.”

It was his first tour to India. From raagas to breads, Abdulrasol had a lot to say about the country and its people.

“It was an amazing experience performing for the Indian audiences. I was extremely tired before my performance but the enthusiastic audiences completely made it up to that,” he said, adding: “We got to eat fantastic food in the afternoons.”

“There was this delicious dish called shahi paneer. Then there were breads…chapatis, naans etc.”

Referring to the multiple problems he witnessed here in India, he said: “Chaos creates a lot of creativity. I believe that it triggers artists.”

“In Iraq also, the political chaos triggers creativity. Europe is organised and thus it has less creativity,” he said jokingly.

Abdulrasol cited similarities between Indian music and Iraqi music saying: “We have maqams in Iraqi music, which are similar to raagas in Indian music. Many of the Indian raagas have different names in Iraqi.”

“In old times, there used to be 3,500 maqams. They unfortunately got reduced to 47 with time. We are trying to bring those old maqams back to life.”

The artist works a lot on fusions and likes to bring different instruments together but doesn’t support the influence of contemporary styles on classical music.

“I don’t enjoy the unnecessary influence of pop and rock on classical music. I like fusion only if it’s made with taste and to do so is very difficult. A lot of artists don’t know how to bring it out and end up ruining it,” he said, adding: “My theory is to make new roots on the ground.”

Abdulrasol’s instrument, the qanun is very similar to the Indian santoorr. It is played by plucking the strings with two tortoise-shell picks (one for each hand) or with fingernails.

“People across the world remain very curious to know about the instruments that we play. They always come and ask about it as they cannot really figure out how we play it using fingernails,” Abdulrasol explained.

For Turkish artist Johannus Sahin, India is alive in terms of music with active audiences, who understand music.

“It is a musical country. It’s much easier to play music here than to play it in the west. People are mainly listening to pop there. Classical is very strange for them. They don’t have the culture and patience to enjoy it like they have in India,” he said.

Sahin performed at the Jodhpur folk festival a decade ago. This was his third tour to India. He feels that the music scene in the country is flourishing.

“I see a lot of events happening in Delhi and the music scene is flourishing. You go to a bank ATM, and see images of musicians…Zakir Hussain and Ravi Shankar. That’s overwhelming.”

“You can never ever witness such things in Europe. They would never put the pictures of an artist. It’s great that this country supports artists more than political leaders,” he laughed.

(Mudita Girotra’s visit was at the invitation of the Kala Parishad. She can be contacted at mudita.g@ians.in)