Tickets and Information: 202-625-2361

Iraqi Cultural Center Concert

By Gary Tischler, The Georgetowner 

Outside, it was a typical American-style Friday night in Dupont Circle, restaurants and watering holes busy, couples and groups of people wandering up and down the streets, a mild fall-like weekend night, outdoor dining, indoor imbibing.

In that scene, the outside of 1630 Connecticut Avenue looked like any other night-time office building but inside, out of view, at the site of the still new Iraqi Cultural Center upstairs, something different was going on. Culture—in the form of ancient music inspired by and evocative of something as prosaic as coppersmithing—seemed to have had  an accumulatively powerful effect on an audience gathered for the first concert offering of the 2010-2011 Embassy Series.
That particular Friday night, Embassy Series founder and director Jerome Barry had something that vividly illustrated what he’s always said the series are meant to be—staged musical events in embassies, ambassador residences and cultural centers that doubled as cultural diplomacy.
Nothing demonstrated the possibilities and opportunities of cultural diplomacy more effectively then the merging of audience, performers, and Iraqi officialdom from the ranks of the embassy more than this Friday concert of music by the Safaafir Iraqi Maqam Ensemble, a young group of musicians of Iraqi and American heritage, who played music from, in effect, the Cradle of Civilization with new compositions.
An evening of Iraqi music played by musicians, some of them from the American Midwest searching for and playing the roots of the music of their Iraqi heritage in front of an audience of Americans and Iraqis in Washington, D.C. has an undeniably powerful resonance, historical, political, human and cultural.
In Washington, Iraq is vividly in the contemporary mind, full with memories of 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, the fall of Saddam Hussein, the long, violent and lethal American military presence in Iraq, and the efforts, ongoing, violent, and current of Iraq to recreate itself as a viable state and government.  These things are impossible to put aside for any great length of time, but they can be softened by the bridges that a keen appreciation of cultural opportunities that build bridges.
“Iraq is not just a country of explosions,” Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida’ie, the Ambassador of Iraq, speaking with great and moving eloquence said. “We are not just a country of violence and problem.

“This concert is about a different side of Iraq, we are an ancient people, part of a great civilization from the Cradle of Civilization. What you will hear is music that goes back thousands of years, you will hear music made on instruments that presaged all string instruments, like the violin and the lute, as well as percussion instruments. You will hear music which came from the market place in old Baghdad, melodies which men and women, poets and vendors swayed to in that ancient city.”