LONDON: An Iraqi singer, who fled her native country for Sweden, has used a London festival performance to condemn Iraq’s leadership, describing its political elite as “old, bitter, 50-plus males with extremely dusty beliefs.”
Iraqi-Egyptian Nadin Al-Khalidi, a founder member of the Tarabband group, accused Baghdad politicians of squandering Iraq’s potential, saying her dream is to “see my homeland blooming again.”
The singer said that she is hoping for a “miraculous turning point” in Iraq.
“I hope to see young Iraqi men and women finally claiming their right to lead society with their ideas, dreams, ambition and talents,” Al-Khalidi told Arab News.
“I would love to see young women and men with their liberal, free, honest, transparent and non-scary visions sailing this ship forward without a bloodbath,” she said.
“There should be no more old, bitter, 50-plus males sitting in their chairs with extremely dusty beliefs, ideas and visions about how to rule the country.”
Al-Khalidi was speaking before taking the stage with her band at the Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) festival on Saturday ahead of International Women’s Day.
Formed in Malmo, Sweden, in 2008, Tarabband is a six-member group founded by Al-Khalidi and Swede Gabriel Hermansson, who began as a duo playing Arabic, Persian, Spanish and Italian music.
Al-Khalidi, who grew up in Iraq and Egypt, and sought refuge in Sweden with her sister in 2001, is the band’s lead vocalist and lyricist, and plays the Algerian mandole and Turkish saz, both stringed instruments.
Politics, identity, love, peace and cultural tolerance are common themes in her songs.
The singer said that she felt honored to be part of the AWAN festival, which highlights talented female artists from the Arab world.
“It’s an honor to represent Arab women, and to inspire and be inspired by our audience in London. We look forward to playing in the UK more often,” she said. “I hope to bring music, joy and a deep connection with the audience.”
Al-Khalidi told Arab News that even the band’s name is cross-cultural, and is formed of the Arabic word “tarab,” which means the rapture caused by music, and the English word “band.”
The singer said that the idea for the name came while she was eating at an Arab restaurant and listening to legendary Lebanese singer Fairuz.
A waiter made a remark about the song being “real tarab” and suddenly she thought of calling the duo “Tarabband.”
She said that at a time of growing far-right sentiment against refugees in Europe, “singing is a symbolic way of inspiring and empowering other people.”
“Tarabband’s audience in Sweden is made up mainly of Swedes, so I am creating a cultural bridge here, a free zone where people with different cultural, political and religious backgrounds can meet for 60-90 minutes and discover that we all have a lot in common.”
Al-Khalidi said that her work with refugees in her adopted home helps her cope with the guilt she feels for “not actively making a difference” in Iraq.
“When you look at the young men and women, and even the elderly, who are protesting in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, the only thing they are saying is that they want to have a decent life, and fair wages, working hours and opportunities.
“There is a lot of money in Iraq and lots of potential — it’s horrible to see young men and women who have an education that doesn’t even secure them bread or a meal in their daily lives.”