Screening & Concert: An Evening of Iraqi Stories with Tanya Sleiman and Amir ElSaffar

Sun, November 7, 2010 7:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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Iraqi stories represented and shared via the art of documentary film-making as well as Iraq's rich musical heritage of Maqam, which is inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the Maqam is the classical vocal tradition of Iraq, and one of the most refined maqam traditions in the Arab and Muslim world.


Iraq in the USA by Tanya Sleiman, Documentary, 24 min, 2009, Syria/USA, DVD, Arabic with English Subtitles

In a multi-voiced portrait created through vibrant observational scenes and intimate interviews, “Iraq in the USA” provides a lens into a few of the stories of the Iraqi refugee experiece while documenting a new migration wave to US shores.With humor, one father shares how pleasantly surprised he was to find that murders on every US street corner are only the stuff of Hollywood.A young woman feels cut off from her family and listens to Iraqi songs of exile, but cautions other refugees to stay away from sad songs and listen to pop music instead.A family with three young daughters encounters the Spanish language as quickly as English as they learn about burritos and tacos.Interweaving multiple stories and generations, "Iraq in the USA" paints a collective portrait of uprootedness yet strong, determined hope.

Tanya Sleiman
is a documentary filmmaker and educator who explores themes of culture, transformation, history, and memory.She is drawn to character portraits and visual essays, and her short films have appeared in film festivals in the US and internationally.Her visual essay “A Chronicle of Concrete” was broadcast on PBS affiliates, starting withNew York City.Tanya has a background in Middle East Studies and International Education.

Amir ElSaffar
put his career as a jazz trumpeter on hold in 2002 to travel to Iraq and explore the music of his ancestry, the Iraqi maqam. ElSaffar, who was born in the US in 1977 to an Iraqi father and an American mother, was already an accomplished trumpeter, having performed with many esteemed jazz and classical artists and winning several international competitions. He spent several years traveling in Iraq, throughout the Middle East and in Europe, where he encountered masters of the Iraqi maqam, such as Hamid al-Saadi, Baher al-Rajab, and Farida Mohammed Ali and her ensemble, as well as masters of various other Arabic musical styles. From these teachers, Amir learned to sing the maqam and to play the santoor, a 96-string hammered-dulcimer that is native to Iraq, and quickly mastered a significant portion of the maqam repertoire. In 2005, Amir joined forces with his sister, Dena El Saffar, and her husband, Tim Moore, and formed Safaafir, the only ensemble in the US that performs the maqam in its traditional format. Hamid al-Saadi, Amir's teacher, who is one of the leading maqam singers in Iraq, regards Amir as one of the important carriers of this tradition in his generation, and has said "Amir is a great addition to the maqam…he is preserving the true essence of this music."

Last updated: 2010-11-08 22:56:46

Iraq in the USA
Iraq in the USA
Tanya Sleiman
Tanya Sleiman
Amir El-Saffer on Santour
Amir El-Saffer on Santour

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