Voice of Baghdad


What is the Iraqi media concerned about these days? According to this recent BBC account, "The media in the UK and US may be dominated by the threat of war with Iraq, but newspapers in Iraq itself seem more concerned with the love life of singer Kazem al-Saher."

Al-Saher, Iraq's leading contemporary music star, is among the most idolized of Arabic pop singers; his enthusiastic fans regard him as the "King of Arabic Music." Among his earliest admirers, it is said, was one Saddam Hussein, an association that may well have been a boost to Al-Saher's career. Al-Saher's work has kept alive an old-fashioned, "classical" style of Mideast song in an increasingly rockified Arabic scene; a number of his songs featured lyrics penned by the highly regarded Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani.

Yet for all the cultural Pan-Arabism implicit in his career, Al-Saher's recent videos have offered some surprising visual associations. His big hit last year was a novelty about lovable but spoiled kids (children are a major motif in Arabic pop); the video featured him as a schoolbus driver in San Francisco. Another recent video shows him dancing with a large ensemble of women (all dressed as brides) amid the tourist destinations of Rome. Indeed, Al-Saher recently expressed an interest in singing in English; his passionate fans are split on the merit of the idea.

"When there is news about Kazem in the paper," one Iraqi tells the BBC, "it sells three times as many copies as normal." There always seems to be time to expend on celebs and other symbolic leaders, even in war's shadow.