Iraq day 4 – Abu Shahab

The food here in Erbil is, without exception, awesome. We take breakfast in the hotel, lunch at a restaurant called the “Three Stars” and dinner at a food court called Abu Shahab. At Abu Shahab we can have either Italian, Kebabs or Krunchy Fried Chicken (KFC). Kurdistan’s attitude towards Col. Sanders trademarks is obviously one of “bite me”. The pizzas and the kebabs are awesome. Havn’t tried the KFC yet as I am still traumatized after 3 weeks of Nandos on the Groomless Bride shoot (Sorry Cam!!)

At A.Sh tonight we observed one of the waiters (Yes this is a food court with table service) paying his respects to Allah on a mat at the side of the eating area. We were also privileged to interview Ali, who is a French Horn player. Without giving away too many spoilers from our documentary, we will tell you a little about Ali.

Ali’s father was a trumpet player in the Iraqi military during the rule of Saddam. He has always lived around music which was actively encouraged during Saddam’s time. Classical interpretation was not something he was exposed to though, as most music was interpreted in strict – military – time. This was something also reinforced by his tutors in Baghdad, most of whom also came from a military background.

Since the fall of Saddam, Ali has been living in Sadr City. Sadr City is overseen by religious fundamentalists that do not permit music to be played. Ali therefore has to plug up his horn with mutes and dampen the room where he practices with towels so that the sound doesn’t get out. The consequences of being heard practicing the horn could be quite serious.

Coming to the NYOI course has opened up a whole new world of both horn sound and musical interpretation to Ali. Here in Erbil, he doesn’t have to use a mute, nor does he have to worry about being heard. Quite the opposite, in fact his coach Sarah actively encourages it.

Ali hasn’t been overseas before, but words cannot describe the look on his face at the thought of going to the birthplace of Beethoven and playing alongside German orchestral musicians.

Now of course Ali does not lament the fall of Saddam – we are yet to meet anyone from Iraq that does – but he really misses the opportunity to play and practise the horn properly – a freedom he does not currently enjoy in Baghdad.

At this point we are really only just scratching the surface of some of the stories of these players, but it’s really not hard to see why the motivation levels are so high.

So – any instrumental teachers out there having trouble getting your students to practise? Just introduce them to the story of Ali.

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