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Arabic Music & Its Secrets/On The Banks Of The Tigris

Clinton Street Theater
2522 SE Clinton St
Portland, OR 97202, United States (map)

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ON THE BANKS OF THE TIGRIS: an extraordinary story of cultural resilience and identity. When war and conflict dominate the news, this film reminds us that real heroes play music, tell stories, and, in this case, make films. Iraqi-Australian writer/ actor Majid Shokor fled Iraq during the war, but later learned an amazing secret about the music he loved as a child and which he heard in coffeehouses, on the radio and in the markets of Baghdad. At its heart, this is the story of culture triumphing over regime, presenting Iraq as a significant multicultural centre, where Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions were welded together in a unique Iraqi culture that today appears almost utopian. #kboo #iraq #oud #arabicmusic #jewishmusic Suggested admission $7-10, but no on turned away for lack of funds! Decoupling people from their culture is a perennial tactic in war. The millions of Syrian refugees now seeking asylum across Europe retain little of their material culture, and within Syria cultural material is targeted for destruction. But people’s stories, songs and music do not need suitcases to survive, and it is worth being reminded that war is transient, regimes pass, but culture and identity are shared, enduring and powerful constructions.

On the Banks of the Tigris (2015) – the product of 10 years of vision, belief, and sheer hard work by documentary filmmaker Marsha Emerman and Iraqi-Australian writer and actor Majid Shokor. The film chronicles Majid’s journey after fleeing Iraq to reconnect with the music he loved as a child and which he heard in coffeehouses, on the radio and in the markets of Baghdad.

Last month, the film was awarded Best Documentary Film at the Baghdad International Film Festival. The award celebrates the resilience, in the face of relentless attack, of the people who create, nurture and preserve cultural identity.

It explores the influence of Iraqi Jewish musicians in the cultural life of Iraq, charting their passage from Baghdad to Israel, from celebrity to anonymity. And it reflects on Majid’s own journey as a refugee from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, and the journeys of so many like him.

In Australia, the memory of the music of his childhood leads Majid to explore its history and to uncover the extraordinary truth that much of this music, still loved by Iraqis, was composed and performed by Iraqi Jews. This revelation takes Majid from Australia to Israel, Europe and Iraq to meet Iraqi-Jewish musicians, and other great Iraqi musicians, and to learn their stories.

Kawkab Hamza, one of Iraq’s most famous songwriters in the 1960s, explains how the then Vice President, Saddam Hussein, contrived to erase the names of Jewish composers and other musicians unsympathetic to the regime. Refusing Saddam Hussein’s “invitation” in 1973 to join a committee to “review Iraqi musical heritage”, Hamza fled the country, with devastating results for himself and his family.

Yair Dalal and Majid Shokor. Fruitful Films. In Israel Majid hears acclaimed composer, violinist, oud player, and singer Yair Dalal. Born in Israel to Iraqi-Jewish parents, Dalal performs traditional Iraqi music as well as his own compositions and teaches Iraqi music to young Israelis. “Arab” music, once dismissed in Israel, is now all the rage, an irony not lost on Dalal or those students from Arab-Jewish backgrounds.

Ahmed Mukhtar master oud player. Fruitful Films. In the UK, Majid meets master oud player Ahmed Mukhtar, a composer and recording artist, born in Baghdad but a political refugee in the UK where he teaches oud and Arabic music theory at the University of London.

On the Banks of the Tigris is an extraordinary story of cultural resilience and identity. When war and conflict dominate the news, this film reminds us that real heroes play music, tell stories, and, in this case, make films.


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