Iraqi Folk with Layth
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Genre and Artist Overview
Present day Iraq sits on the site of what was ancient Mesopotamia. It is a geographical crossroads connecting the Middle East to North Africa and East Asia, making it a cultural melting pot; its folk music draws from these diverse sources. Many of the folk songs that remain popular today date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like other forms of Arabic music, Iraqi music uses the maqam system for melodic structure and a set of 38 fundamental rhythms called iqa’at. Unique to Iraqi folk songs is the inclusion of a wordless refrain linking verse and chorus that brings everyone—musicians and audience—together in song.
Layth Sidiq was born in Baghdad; his family left the political and social turbulence in Iraq when he was a year old and moved to Amman, Jordan. Layth began studying violin at the age of four; by the time he was 10, he was performing before the Jordanian royal family. Today he performs a wide range of music, from Classical Arabic music to jazz. As the director of the Arab Music Ensemble at Tufts University and the director of the Center for Arabic Culture Children’s Orchestra, he is committed to keeping the traditions of Arabic music vibrant and alive.
Introduce your students to Layth with this “Meet Layth” video. Visit the video index to watch all the videos for Layth and the other Program Six artists.
Students will learn to sing “Tal’a Min Beit Abouha” and will explore the use of melody, rhythm, and refrains in Iraqi folk music.
Students learn the refrain; compare and contrast the maqam and iqa’ used in “Foag el-Nakhal" with those used in “Tal’a Min Beit Abouha”; explore vocal ornamentation; and learn the chobi dance.
Resources for Teachers
The following resources provide background information about the musical genre and culture. Some are intended to be shared with students; others are for teachers who may want to explore further on their own.
- Son of Tigris, Layth Sidiq
- “Fraghum Bachani,” Hussein al-A’dhami
- Iraqi Titles Playlist, Qatar Digital Library
- “Guli Ya Hilu,” Nathom al-Ghazali
- “Sa’alouni el-Nas,” Fairouz
- “Ghaneeli,” Umm Kulthum
- Visit maqamworld.com for more information on Arabic music theory and practice.
- Visit maqamlessons.com for more information on the maqam system.
- “Iraqi Music from Everyday Life to Mourning,” Hazel Rowland, Culture Trip
- “Dusty Streets and Hot Music in Baghdad: Iraqi Maqam and Chalgi Ensembles,” Rolf Killius, Qatar Digital Library
- Our Iraq, Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP)
- Hamid Al Saadi at Old Town School of Folk Music, Inner-City Muslim Action Network