Should a language pretend to know more about love than music, then it must be a lie.
And should music want to conquer all of your love, then it barely has to try. When delivered at the same frequency your heart vibrates, you will uncontrollably sigh, cry and feel high. Here are twenty love songs from Iraq exploring the intersections between memory and love. The playlist has been made ready for you to save and enjoy here.
Hilwa Yal Baghdadya by Salah Abdul Ghafoor
حلوة يالبغدادية - صلاح عبد الغفور
Driving along the Jadriyah bridge, a taxi driver says to my aunt sitting with me in the back seat, “your niece is so sweet with her rosy cheeks,” and proceeds to sing lyrics from this song, which serenades a girl from Baghdad for the shade of her cheeks. I smiled. A shy 10 year old admiring the kind taxi driver thinking, even then, how that was one of my favourite songs. It was a companion to all of our trips from Baghdad to Basra, where my dad would sing it out loud before pinching my cheeks. I felt that this was my song and written exclusively for me.
Hayra by Adel Ogla
حايرة - عادل عكلة
This song takes me back to being a teenager in Baghdad. Adil Ogla was the hottest new singer on the Iraqi music scene at the time. It must have been 1990. We were all captivated by how cool his music videos were, just him on the keys, framed by two men, one on an electronic drum kit and the other on a tambourine. I first heard about Adel from my friend Lina. She had seen him perform a few times and would tell me how exciting his shows were.
I was too young to go, and my brother was purely into pop and rock music, so there was no one around to take me. But Lina and I would always listen to this song, singing our hearts out, recalling all our crushes, while fully crushing on Adel himself. There was never a music video made for this track, but we definitely conjured up so many versions in our dreamy minds.
Ala Bakhtak by Ismael Al Farwachi
على بختك - اسماعيل الفروجي
Ismael’s name was on everyone’s lips when he came to the scene in the late ‘80s. As an amputee injured in the Iraq-Iran war, he was truly respected. In no time, he would be recognized as a key composer that shaped the music of his era. This same track would be later performed by Adel Ogla, but Ismael’s version remained iconic, characterized by his soft delicate voice that effortlessly carried so much meaning. This song too, was a teenage hit of hormones gone sweet, with corporal urges dissolving in cuteness, innocence, shyness and love from a distance - the true Iraqi neighbourhood way.
Fidwa Ya Azeez Al Ein by Saleema Khudhair
فدوة يا عزيز العين - سليمة خضير
Saleema Khudhair came across as a shy performer. I started following her back when music videos were shot in TV studios, with colourful backlights, or steamers, with female singers wearing skirts below the knee, standing with their feet together, in a pose that was meant to symbolize dignity. With her posture carefully curated by producers, only her voice and eyes were allowed to seduce you. This particular track actually had a music video, where Saleema can be seen riverside, her hair dancing in the wind, her beauty pure and raw.
Imshi Bhadawa by Kathem El Saher
امشي بهداوة - كاظم الساهر
I first heard this song, and the entire album, in the car with baba. But, driven by fiery percussion, this song was my perfect accompaniment to the pulsating crush we all had on Kathem in 2005. But what makes it so hot are the soft lyrics that, despite their delicacy, don’t mince words when talking about the attraction this boy has for the girl he loves, as she passes in front of him: “Walk gently sweet one, your path is clear, but I’m worried about your waist, should you lean to the side and break it.” A typically long twisted Iraqi flirtatious way of how Arabic lyrics are so good at being extra in the way they describe love.
Salamat by Hameed Mansour
سلامات - حميد منصور
I’ve never met Hameed, the man behind this iconic hit, but from his songs, I’m just certain that he would be kind in real life too. There are so many video recordings of this song, which makes perfect sense since this song means different things to everyone. Whether you are longing for a lover’s touch, or missing the warmth of a friend, this song is for you. Hyptonized by the sounds of Salamat, “Greetings,” over and over again, this track has accompanied generations of people living apart from their heart far too long.
Aya Shai’n Fee Al Eid by Nadhim Al Ghazali
ايَّ شيءٍ في العيدِ - ناظم الغزالي
Growing up in Iraq, every Eid was everyone’s Eid. Whether it was Christmas or the one after Ramadan’s fast, we all celebrated, regardless of our faith. And when Iraqi TV chimed in for the festivities, it was always with the great Nadhim Al Ghazali’s, “What shall I gift you this Eid?” A question that he poses to a woman that he so beautifully describes with his honey dipped voice and infectious smile. Watching him on TV made it feel like he was singing just for us, and that’s probably why every Iraqi feels like this song is theirs to love and keep.
Ana Ya Tayr by Fouad Salem
انا ياطير - فؤاد سالم
In 2003, as the world watched in horror while the US waged a war against Iraq, the Internet and chat rooms were all the rave. Through my laptop in Toronto, I reconnected with a group of old Iraqi friends through whom I met Saba, a recent immigrant that had moved with her family to New Zealand. Although we had never met in person, the friendship was instant as we connected over our love for Iraqi men, cooking, music and everything nostalgic for homes that we missed so much. One day, she shared with me a recording of this song which she sang while playing her acoustic guitar. Although the original was composed in the 70s, this was the first time I heard of the song. I became immediately obsessed with how soulfully painful it was. Recorded by many artists, it was made by the iconic Fouad Salem.
Areed Allah by Afifa Iskandar
اريد الله يبين حوبتي بيهم - عفيفة اسكندر
I first heard this Baghdadi classic as a cover by a famous Iraqi band from the 80s - The Bells. The lyrics melted my heart, and I was intrigued to explore the original by Afifa Iskandar, a musical composition that has outlived the time of its release by decades. Recognised as one of the greatest Iraqi artists of the 20th century, Afifa moved to Baghdad to begin her singing career as a child, before venturing out to Cairo where she would work with giants like Mohammed Abdul Wahab and Badia Masabni. Afifa also acted in several films, but she is mostly known for her sultry voice, gaining her the nickname, “The Iraqi Blackbird.” In this song, Afifa asks God to punish her loved one for leaving her.
Lo Tihib Lo Ma Tihib by Mahmoud Anwar
لو تحب لو ماتحب - محمود انور
Mahmoud Anwar was a heartthrob. Rocking a suit, holding his own in poetry, singing beautiful love songs, he set the standard for what an Iraqi crush should aspire to. The catchy simple words that made up the chorus made it even more popular, becoming almost a mantra for lovers at the time who wanted more clarity about the intentions of their love interest: “You either love or you don’t, it’s one of those two.” I love how this sentiment lives on decades later.
About the Curator
Maral Jule Bedoyan is a museum education specialist, with a Master's degree from UCL in museums and gallery practice. Having worked in museums across the GCC for more than 10 years, Maral is currently heading the education department at Louvre Abu Dhabi.