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The Greatest Iraqi Singer Ever!

posted on: Jan 24, 2018

By Hayfa Alazzawi/Arab America Ambassador Blogger

Nazem al Ghazali ناظم الغزالي was an Iconic singer in the history of the Arab world and, especially, Iraq. He was born in the Haydar Khanah quarter in Baghdad in 1921. His musical talent was discovered by his co-workers during his employment for three years as a foreman in flour mills.  

People around him were impressed by his powerful tenor voice and recommended him to study at the Institute of Fine Arts in Iraq

The Institute demanded from all Ghazali much work and patience since he was an orphan. His blind mother died in her humble room in one of the poorest parts of Baghdad; he was raised by his aunt.

Al Ghazali started his career as an actor after graduation from the Institute; he then switched to singing.

In 1948, al Ghazali worked at the Iraqi radio station and became a member of the famous Andalusian Muashahat Ensemble فرقة الموشحات الأندلسية. This activity drew him closer to the great oudist, Jamil Bashir, who taught him how to sing professionally and together, they launched most distinguished works, such as the very popular song: Foge el-Nakhal Foge فوق النخل فوق (from the top of the palm trees), Marrou ‘Alayya el-Hilween مروا علينا الحلوين (passed by the beautiful people), and the greatest song of his time, ‘Aeratne belShaib عيرتني بالشيب (made a mockery of my gray hair), and last but not least, Tal-ah min Bait Abouha  طالعه من بيت ابوها (she’s leaving her father’s home).

Al Ghazali made a huge leap in popularity when he became a student of Muhammad al-Qubbanchi, القبانجي (el-Kabbandji), one of the most prominent Iraqi’s Maqam singers of the last century.

Nazem al Ghazali became very renowned for his few hits and his Maqams. According to many, his refined mellow voice was the finest in the field with its flexibility, tenderness, and a wide range of notes.

Nazem al Ghazali became even more famous in the Levant Arab countries when he traveled to Palestine in 1948 with the Artistic Delegation to entertain Iraqi forces fighting for freedom of Palestine.  

His book,“The Most Famous Arab Singers“ was published in 1952. It authenticated great efforts for a forgotten period of time in Arab music. 

Author, Majid Habta, stated that Nazim Al Ghazali wrote another book called, Levels Of Musicians and Singers, but that book was never found.

Early 1963, he got an invitation to sing in Kuwait in big concerts that were very successful. He extended his stay 20 more days at the request of fans. After Kuwait, he performed in Lebanon in 35 concerts.  

We asked Sami Asmar, an Arab America contributing writer and music critic, about Nazim Alghazali. He recounted the three most important elements that made Nazim so successful and unique from the other musical artists of his generation:

Nazim’s music was special not only in Iraq in Iraq but universally in the Arab world:

“Nazem al-Ghazali took Iraqi music that was from the folk and popular genres of his time and packaged it for the rest of the Arab World to appreciate.” said Asmar, “His wonderful television presence and warm personality contributed to his popularity.  Arab viewers were first intrigued by his personality, attracted to his accent, and then fell in love with his songs.”

His music encompassed folk, classical and pop genres:

“His music was a combination of Iraqi folk music as well as what was considered the popular music of his region at that time,” said Asmar.  “We now look back at his art and treat it as folk, which is an oversimplification and does not give enough credit to the writers and composers of those songs.” Asmar went on to say, “Although Nazem was very capable of performing in the classical Iraqi genre which is based on “Maqam Iraqi” or “Maqam Baghdadi,” he left this pure form to others and took the most popular pieces out of the maqam suites and popularized them as individual songs. 

His music tradition is still remembered in Iraq:

Asmar concluded, “Nazem al-Ghazali’s music is still well remembered in Iraq and viewed by many nostalgically as the peak of a golden era of the country’s arts.”

Al Ghazali was married to Salima Murad; she was a prominent Iraqi Jewish singer ( AKA Salima Basha ) who was 16 years his senior.

Murad not only showed Al Ghazali much love, but also some jealousy. Being wealthy and from an aristocratic family, Murad was instrumental in introducing Al Ghazali to other aristocratic families and opened many doors for the man she adored.  

Touring through the Arab World and Europe with his wife Salima, proved to be exhausting for Al Ghazali, causing him a heart attack upon arrival in Iraq from Beirut.  It was the on 23rd of October, 1963 when the Iraqi state radio broadcast was interrupted to announce the shocking news of Nazim Al Ghazali’s untimely death, at the age of 42. At that time, interruption of radio broadcast was reserved only for announcements about the Iraqi military.

Al Ghazali will be remembered for many reasons, especially, singing lyrics from some of the greatest poets such as Aelia Abu Madhi, Ahmad Shawqi, and Abu Feras Alhamadani. He will always be remembered for his powerful tenor voice which played a big role in his succesful career.

History will always remember Nazim Alghazali as the polite, shy, well cultured, and the greatest Iraqi singer of his generation.

Finally, he will always be remembered for his historic song “Aeratne bel Shaib” عيرتني بالشيب (she made a mockery of my gray hair, but indeed my sideburns are getting gray like nights brightened by moonlight).