Renowned Iraqi Maqam Vocalist Hamid Al-Saadi performs Saturday

January 14, 2020

Hamid Al-Saadi, one of the few masters of the Iraqi maqam, will perform with Safaafir, the only U.S.-based ensemble dedicated to the genre, on Saturday, January 18 at 4:30 PM in the auditorium at Henry R. Luce Hall.


The Iraqi maqam represents one of Iraq’s richest cultural offerings, and was inscribed in 2008 on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The term maqam refers to genre of highly-structured, semi-improvised, compositions that take years of disciplined study under a master to learn fully. The maqam’s sophisticated melodies, infectious rhythms, and eloquent poetry are a direct reflection of Iraq’s history, geography, culture, and folklore.


Through his powerful and highly ornamented voice, and in his comprehensive knowledge of the intricate details of the music and poetry of Iraq, Hamid Al-Saadi is one of the few vocalists keeping the maqam alive at a time when so many elements of this profound tradition are in danger of extinction. Born in Iraq in 1958, Hamid Al-Saadi began his artistic, musical, and scholarly journey with the Iraqi maqam in childhood, inspired by his love of Iraqi and Baghdadi culture, the Arabic language, music, and poetry. He learned the art of singing and performing the Iraqi maqam from the legendary Yusuf Omar (1918–1987), who proclaimed Al-Saadi as his successor. Muhammed Al-Gubbenchi (1901–1989), one of the most influential maqam reciters in history, said that he considered Al-Saadi to be the “ideal link to pass on the maqam to future generations.”


Hamid Al-Saadi is performing in the United States under the auspices of an Artist Protection Fund fellowship. The Artist Protection Fund (APF) is an innovative program of the Institute of International Education (IIE). Supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and with the host-participation of organizations from around the world, the APF fills a critical unmet need by providing fellowship grants to threatened artists and placing them at host institutions in safe countries where they can continue their work and plan for their futures.


Safaafir is the only US-based ensemble dedicated to performing the Iraqi maqam in its traditional format. The group is led by two American-born siblings of Iraqi descent, Dena El Saffar and Amir ElSaffar, and also features percussionist Tim Moore and ‘oud player George Ziadeh. For the past five years, the group has performed actively for Iraqi, Arab, and American audiences across the United States and internationally. In addition to presenting the maqam in its traditional format, Safaafir incorporates jazz, classical, and other Middle Eastern styles to create a highly personalized sound.


The concert is presented by the Yale Institute of Sacred Music with support from the South Asian Studies Council and Yale and the Yale Council on Middle East Studies. More information about Al-Saadi and Safaafir’s performance can be found on the ISM website.