Accessibility links

Breaking News

Northern Iraq Hosts Music Festival

The Kurdistan region in Northern Iraq has largely avoided the surging violence that has destabilized so much of the country these days. In the Kurdish capital, Irbil, a national music festival is underway, celebrating the entire country's shared musical history. The festival is a bittersweet escape from Iraq's growing civil conflict.

The band is called Baghdad, but tonight they are playing in Irbil, capital of the Kurdistan region in Northern Iraq.

Monday is the final night of the city's three-day music festival. Like Baghdad, most of the groups performing are playing traditional Iraqi music, some of the songs more than 400 years old.

Organizers say the festival is, at least in part, meant to remind Iraqis that they share a common culture.

Fakhri Fathel lives in the Iraqi city of Mosul and helped select many of the music groups. He says the all groups from Mosul have a simple message for the audience.

He says the musicians came here to prove that there is only one Iraqi people. He says the message is love and unity throughout Iraq. The bands perform beneath hand painted banners extolling the virtues of a unified Iraq.

One of the largest signs reads, "From the marshlands in the south to the Kurdish mountains in the North let us sing as one country".

The audience reflects Iraq's unique cultural and political heritage. The crowd includes local Kurds and Arab Iraqis. Members of the city's sizable Christian community mix freely with Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

For most of the people the festival is a welcome distraction from the war in Iraq. Children dance up and down the aisles as the musicians perform.

Roopak Abdlkader, 45, says the music reminds her of her childhood in Baghdad.

It is amazing, she says, that the musicians can still create something so beautiful, despite the challenges they face in Baghdad and Mosul. Really she says, we should thank them, they are genuine artists. But for many of the artists the festival is bittersweet.

The annual celebration used to be held in Mosul, where most of the music actually originated. But organizers say the fighting there is just too intense to risk public performances.

So, for most of musicians this is a rare opportunity to play in front of an audience. Several of the artists say it may be the last time they can perform until this time next year.

These days in Iraq one says, even music can get you killed.