Farida Mohammed Ali
From the start it was clear that Farida Mohammad Ali was destined for something remarkable. After all, her name in Arabic means “The special one”. She is born in 1963, in the Iraqi city of Karbala, one of the holy cities of Shia Islam, to an Azerbaidjani mother and an Iraqi father, both great lovers of music and art.
From her earliest childhood, Farida is surrounded by the sounds of cassettes and records playing Iraqi classical music, maqams, Persian music and Iraqi folk songs. During her first years at school, Farida finds herself excelling in singing, dancing and reciting poetry. Soon her talent is spotted by the officials of Iraqi television: she is offered a part in a well-know children’s series and she becomes known as a singer of children’s songs.
At fourteen, she is convinced that singing is her sole passion, and from then on everything else will stand in the shade of persuing this dream. When she finishes school at sixteen, in 1979, the well-known ud-player Ali Al-Imam brings her into contact with the nowadays world- famous Munir Bashir who, at the time, directs the Iraqi Heritage Ensemble at the Baghdad Conservatory. Bashir is looking for a beautiful female voice for the interpretation of maqam, considered to be the most difficult, most prestigious form of vocal music in Iraq.
Farida’s voice impresses him, and he offers her a position within the ensemble. As it turns out, Farida’s voice, powerful and relatively low, is excellently suited to the singing of maqams, which, until then, is considered the domain of male performers only. But Farida’s performances manage to convince even the most severe critics. She is then the only woman to be performing maqams in a professional way.
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For over a year she is employed as a singer by Munir Bashir’s ensemble. When she meets her first husband, the father of her son Latif, she decides to say farewell to her short-lived singing-career. Shortly after their first child is born, the hostilities between Iraq and Iran commence, and Farida’s husband, like many Iraqi young men, is sent off to the battlegrounds where he is killed in action, leaving Farida a young widow to take care of their infant son alone. Her love of singing, however, had never died and when she decides to return to her own family things turn for the better. The support of her whole family, and notably her father, stimulates Farida to take up her singing career once more. Five years after she last sang with Munir Bashir’s group, she decides to join the Conservatory again, and she signs up for an audition. By chance, her old teacher glances over the lists with new candidates and immediately recognizes the name of his former student. Without singing one note, Farida is admitted to the institute, and takes up her study of maqam-singing under the guidance of the famous Hussein Al-Athamy and Sha’oubi Ibrahim.
Farida becomes a national celebrity in 1985 when during a concert aired live on Iraqi television for the occasion of the annual Day of the Arts she performs for the first time what has become her signature piece: maqam Orfa. Proposed by Munir Bashir, maqam Orfa is performed by the National Orchestra of Iraq – made up of musicians who teach at the Conservatory – with Farida as vocalist. The performance is an instant success. The television studios are flooded with telephone calls: everybody wants to know who the singer was; that same night, Farida’s interpretation of maqam Orfa is repeated various times. Overnight, Farida’s fame has spread all over the country. Her soulful and emotional performance is applauded by the general public and connoisseurs alike.
From that moment on, Farida is a national star: at the same time continuing her studies at the Conservatory, she appears in festival-halls all over Iraq and abroad performing with Munir Bashir’s ensemble as well as with her own group. In 1991 she graduates from the Academy; the institution honors her by asking her to accept a job as teacher of maqam-singing. It is the first time in history a woman is appointed for this prestigious position. Her life is divided between teaching, per- forming and her family. In 1992 she marries Mohammad Gomar, a violinist and joze-player, who is also the leader of her current ensemble.
text by Ronald de Vries
Farida Mohammed Ali - Releases
Mohammad is playing the joze, a typical Iraqi instrument producing a refined, sharp sound, and fellow musician and friend Wissam Ibrahim is playing softly on the hammered dulcimer santur. All of a sudden Farida bursts into a song the lyrics of which tell of home, of lost dear ones, of Baghdad. I listen without breathing, without understanding but I can feel the emotion of every word which is being sung. I see tears rolling from Farida’s eyes, and I cannot recall any other moment in my life when music touched me in a similar profound way. Then, suddenly, the song ends, the music stops and Farida wipes away her tears and starts clearing the table.
Apparently nothing has changed: the television is playing, the singing of birds creeps in again. For a brief moment I witnessed a deep and soulful natural performance by an artist who is one of a kind, needing no gimmicks, no fancy surroundings, nor even an audience to appreciate it. The evening was also special for another reason: however modest the surroundings and the attendance, that night saw the presentation of Farida’s first CD.
(text by Ronald de Vries)