Ilham Al Madfai
Born in 1942 in Baghdad, Iraq, Ilham al Madfai has always been and continues to be, a true musical pioneer. His work is recognized today as groundbreaking and he is attributed with having facilitated the crossover of Arabic music onto the wider, World Music stage. His compositions, together with his unique guitar-playing and singing style that weave Western flamenco with traditional Iraqi songs, continue to bring him great respect and popularity throughout the Middle East, Europe and North America.
In his first band ‘Twisters’ in 1961, Ilham was the first musician to introduce modern rock instruments into Arabic musical compositions.
In 1967, Ilham introduced flamenco guitar rhythms to Iraqi folk songs, thus appealing to a new and younger audience. Throughout the 70s, Ilham was Iraq’s most popular artist. However, this fame was cut short with the rise of Saddam Hussein to power in 1979 and, having refused to join the Ba’ath Party, Ilham left his homeland, his fame, and most significantly his music, behind.
In his songs, Ilham sustains a tension between permanence and change. He sings of love – for his homeland, for its fruit, and of course, its women. Ilham has certainly played a hugely significant role in the development of his country’s rich musical heritage. Through his unique new arrangements of Iraqi folk songs, he has, in fact, conserved them for generations to come. His songs bring the nostalgia of a more innocent Iraq home to Iraqis both within the country and around the world. There is both joy and sadness in this, which can always be seen in his audiences as both young and old join him in singing and dancing, whilst also crying with what Ilham calls “Oriental sobbing”. For his listeners and audiences, Ilham is a hero, and as a spokesman for the Mesopotamia Club in California stated following a performance “Though Ilham’s home remains Baghdad, his real home is in the hearts of his fans in every corner of this planet.”
Ilham al Madfai continues to tour around the world delighting his audiences with his unique fusion of Iraqi folk and traditional music with flamenco influences and a mix of Western and Oriental instrumentation. In recent years his UK performances have included Royal Albert Hall, Union Chapel, Ronnie Scott’s, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Lyric Hammersmith, WOMAD Festival, and Glastonbury.