The Al-Kuwaiti Brothers: Iraqi Jewish Musicians

The Al-Kuwaiti brothers.
Image taken from mepop.blogspot.com.


In the 1930s and 40s, when Baghdad became an artistic hub in the Arab world, two Jewish brothers were among the city's most successful musicians. At the time, the Jewish community still comprised over a third of the city’s residents.

Saleh and Daoud Al-Kuwaiti were born in Kuwait to family of Iraqi origins. They began playing and writing music when their uncle gave them a violin and an oud which he brought back from a business trip to India. Saleh was 10 years old and Daoud only eight, but it wasn't long before they were performing in the salons of Kuwaiti socialites. The first song they wrote and performed was called "I Swear I Loved Your Beauty."

Listen to the Al-Kuwaiti brothers' music after the jump.




Their talent brought them to Basra, Iraq, and later to Baghdad, a larger, more cosmopolitan city and artistic center. At the height of their success in the 1930s, they wrote music for King Faisal's 1936 coronation ceremony, headed the Iraqi radio orchestra, and composed a song for the Egyptian musical giant, Umm Kulthum.

After the founding of the state of Israel, the brothers emigrated there along with thousands of other Iraqi Jews in the early 1950s, in a wave of emigration that saw nearly all of Iraq’s Jewish population forced to leave the country.

In a 2006 interview with Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Salah Al-Kuwaiti’s son, Shlomo Al-Kuwaiti, recounts how difficult the move to Israel was for the brothers in terms of their musical career. In Iraq, their legacy was gradually erased, with local musicians appropriating their music. Meanwhile in Israel, despite their major career success in Iraq, they were relegated to a ghetto of Judeo-Arab music, which was not popular with the Israeli mainstream at the time. 

According to Haaretz

"The process of erasing them from Iraqi history was gradual. During the first years, local artists, Muslims, began to appropriate some of their songs. Slowly but surely, their names disappeared from the radio programs, although the songs themselves were still played. The process came to a climax after Saddam Hussein came to power. In 1972 he established a committee in the broadcasting authority, and one of its orders was to erase the names of the Al-Kuwaiti brothers from every official publication and from the curricula in the academy of music.” 

For more on the story of the Al-Kuwaiti brothers, see "The Brothers Al-Kuwaiti" on Jewishideasdaily.com, and this post on University of Arkansas anthropology professor Ted Swedenburg's Middle Eastern Popular Music blog, which has useful links on the Al-Kuwaiti brothers, and on Iraqi music in general. 

Diwaniyya

Diwaniyya Contributor

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