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9 Things to Know About Legendary Iraqi Musician Ilham Al-Madfai Ahead of His Gig at CJC 610

Being a friend of Paul McCartney and Saddam's sons' favourite musician is just the tip of the iceberg.

Ilham Al-Madfai

Amidst a typically busy month of DJs, bands and Christmas specials, one name has stood out on CJC 610’s December schedule – that of Ilham Al-Madfai Now, while his significance might be lost on some of our younger readers, the 76 year-old Iraqi musician is nothing short of a legend.

Set to take to the stage on Wednesday 26th of December, one could justly argue that he paved the way for much of the original contemporary music coming out of the Middle East today. In fact, he was something of a trailblazer - a symbol of a renewed sense of freedom and creativity across the Middle East in the 60s and 70s. To give you just a little idea of what a unique and storied career he has had, we have gathered some facts about Al-Madfai – some interesting others unbelievable.

-He’s widely acknowledged as the first Arab musician to create a new sound out of influences from east and west, which earned him the nickname ‘The Beatle of Baghdad’.

-Having learned to play guitar from the age of 12, his first real foray into music started when he formed Iraq’s first rock and roll band, The Twisters, in the early 60s, who started off by playing covers of Cliff Richard, the Shadows and the Beatles.

-Although he began his musical journey in the early sixties, Al Madfai didn’t release his official debut album till 1999 at the age of 57 – and it went platinum.

-He was signed to iconic British label EMI in the late 90s and early 2000s, where he released four albums between 1999 and 2005, before releasing a fifth album with Virgin Records in 2009.

-During the 70s, he moved to England to complete an engineering degree, but found himself in the company of the likes of Paul McCartney and Donovan while being a regular solo performer at the famous Baghdad Café in London.

-After amassing a big following in Iraq in the 70s, Saddam Hussein’s rise to power forced him to leave his homeland and work construction jobs around the Gulf. When he returned just before the First Gulf War, he was banned from leaving the country.

-He was rumoured to be Saddam’s sons’ favourite Iraqi musician and would often be invited to play at private parties – something he consistently, and quite bravely, refused.

-He eventually moved to, and settled in, Jordan in 1994 and was granted citizenship for his ‘exceptional talents and achievements’, where he still resides now.

-Even in more recent times, his talent wasn't lost on the west. In 2005 he played at both Glastonbury and WOMAD, and was the featured artist at London’s Royal Albert Hall in August 2010.

Ilham Al-Madfai will perform at CJC 610 on Wednesday 26th of December on a night that will also feature Egyptian Project.

Images courtesy of Ilham Al-Madfai/Facebook

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