WAR-WEARY IRAQIS USE MU­SIC TO RE­BUILD

Winnipeg Free Press - - GPS YOU WORLD - RUBY MELLEN AND MUSTAFA SALIM

THE night was clear, the air thick with hu­mid­ity and filled with the sounds of Vi­valdi’s Four Sea­sons. It was Oct. 27 in Mo­sul, Iraq, and a makeshift or­ches­tra was putting on a show — one un­like any­thing the city had seen for decades, one lo­cal jour­nal­ist said.

The or­ches­tra — a mix of play­ers, in­clud­ing a range of Bagh­dad pro­fes­sion­als as well as lo­cal am­a­teurs — drew an au­di­ence of hun­dreds to a plot of land where the Is­lamic State group once trained its next gen­er­a­tion of sol­diers. For spec­ta­tors and par­tic­i­pants, it marked an artis­tic re­birth in a city still try­ing to re­build af­ter the mil­i­tant group’s har­row­ing three-year rule.

Mo­sul, ruled by IS from 2014 to 2017, was the largest city un­der the group’s con­trol. Civil­ians were ruled by a strict re­li­gious code that called for harsh pun­ish­ments; ex­e­cu­tions of men and women charged with crimes such as spy­ing or adul­tery were rou­tinely held in pub­lic squares. Then much of Mo­sul was de­stroyed dur­ing the Iraqi gov­ern­ment’s eight-month of­fen­sive to re­cap­ture the city, dur­ing which hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians fled and thou­sands of oth­ers were killed.

It has been more than a year af­ter since then­prime min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi de­clared Mo­sul lib­er­ated, but much of the city is still in ru­ins and strug­gling to find the fund­ing to pick up the pieces. Or­ga­niz­ers of last month’s per­for­mance hoped the con­cert could help res­i­dents grap­ple with the trauma.

“This city de­serves cul­tur­ally to be iden­ti­fied as some­where where there should be mu­sic in­stead of the sound of bombs,” said the con­cert’s con­duc­tor, Karim Wasfi. Wasfi is the for­mer con­duc­tor of the Iraqi Na­tional Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, whose Peace Through Arts foun­da­tion helped put on the show.

Wasfi is known for bring­ing mu­sic to dark places. He drew in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion in 2015 when he played his cello atop some rub­ble in Bagh­dad where a car bomb had ex­ploded the day be­fore. Mourn­ers and passersby sang along as he played Iraq’s na­tional an­them.

That per­for­mance came dur­ing a bleak time: IS still held con­trol of ma­jor swaths of the coun­try, and hun­dreds of civil­ians were killed each month by acts of ter­ror­ism and vi­o­lence. The pur­pose of play­ing, Wasfi told the Wash­ing­ton Post at the time, was to reach “out to peo­ple ex­actly where some­one had ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing so grotesque and ugly ear­lier.”

Wasfi’s or­ga­ni­za­tion hoped to do the same in Mo­sul — and also per­haps draw at­ten­tion from in­ter­na­tional donors who could help re­con­struc­tion ef­forts.

“The gov­ern­ment is de­pend­ing on in­ter­na­tional sup­port to re­build Mo­sul,” said Salih Elias, a lo­cal jour­nal­ist who helped or­ga­nize the show. “A con­cert like this will send a pos­i­tive mes­sage to the in­ter­na­tional world.”

Sure enough, the city is draw­ing more cul­tural sum­mits in the hopes of re­vi­tal­iza­tion. This week­end, the an­nual Iraqi song fes­ti­val took place at the Uni­ver­sity of Mo­sul, a choice made by the na­tional gov­ern­ment.

“We in­sisted... to do the fes­ti­val this year in Mo­sul to sup­port this city be­cause it’s been through a lot, and to send a mes­sage to the whole world that Mo­sul is alive,” said Asia Ka­mal, the deputy head of the Iraqi Artists As­so­ci­a­tion, who spear­headed the fes­ti­val.

Wasfi and his band of mu­si­cians will per­form in Mo­sul again to­day. This time, Elias said, the con­cert will take place in the more heav­ily dam­aged west­ern half of the city, near a tall build­ing where IS used to ex­e­cute LGBTTQ* peo­ple by throw­ing them from the roof.

“We are fight­ing their ter­ror with life and mu­sic,” he said.

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