lham al Madfai

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COMPOSERS: lham al Madfai
ALBUM TITLE: Ilham: The Voice of Iraq
WORKS: Ilham: The Voice of Iraq
PERFORMER: Ilham Al Madfai (guitar); various musicians
Ethnomusicological purists may quarrel with the album title, but in a real sense it’s accurate. Ilham Al Madfai cut his musical teeth in 1960s London, where he was resident guitarist at the Baghdad café on Fulham Road; knocking about with the likes of Paul McCartney, Donovan, and Georgie Fame, he acquired something of their way of singing – so much so, that back in Iraq he became known as the Baghdad Beatle. After a subsequent out-in-out relationship with Baghdad – where he wouldn’t be safe at present – he now lives in Amman.


His music is quintessentially Arab: his warmly expressive voice is perfectly suited to the melismatic emotionality of the style, and his excellent band provides the ideal foundation. All these tracks are about love – hoped-for, remembered, lost, lamented – or about the seductive charm of old Baghdad, but most radiate a pervasively cheerful optimism. Ilham’s guitar-playing has a Portuguese delicacy, and his colleagues on the qanun and spike-fiddle weave lovely improvisations at the start of the songs. Michael Church