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Female traditional singers in Iraq: A survey

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This article considers the musical expressions and activities of rural, Bedouin and urban Iraqi women of popular classes, and the different contexts and themes inscribed therein. Based on both Iraqi written material and fieldwork conducted in the 1970s and 1980s, it locates women's central role in Iraqi ceremonies, festivities, celebrations and various rituals. It takes into account regional, religious and social differences that shape how women perform song and poetry in their respective surroundings.

The article is structured around four broad themes that explore how women are positioned as cultural actors in four different expressions: women's solo songs; women-to-women shared performances; complementary male–female expressions; and professional mixed groups.

The author identifies untrained, non-professional women as constituting the majority of women that are covered under the first theme of women as solo performers. Here, she focuses on the role of lullabies, child care songs and work songs that are usually performed by women in privacy or in the company of their children or other women. When exploring women-to-women shared performances, the author considers a range of different spaces for this type of performance, including non-professional women gatherings, Sufi and Shi'a rituals, professional singers who perform for female audiences including in lamentations for the deceased. The third theme explores how gendered divisions become blurred through performance and how various popular festivities foster gendered interactions. Finally, the article considers how Bedouin and Gypsy mixed gendered groups are embedded in the Iraqi cultural landscape.
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Keywords: Iraqi Female Singers; Iraqi Music; Traditional Music of Iraq

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2010

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  • The International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies is a new peer-reviewed, tri- annual, academic publication devoted to the study of modern Iraq. In recognition of Iraq's increasingly important position on the world stage, the time is right for a new journal dedicated to scholarly engagement with the country.
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