Ilham Al-Madfai: A musical icon
The blend of Western guitar music and Iraqi traditionals has made Ilham al-Madfai one of the most popular Iraqi musicians with a platinum record and a live album from the Hard Rock Cafe.
Born in Baghdad, young al-Madfai began to play music early on and started playing the guitar with twelve, forming the first Iraqi Rock’n Roll band with 18 and then – surprisingly – moved to England to graduate as an Engineer.
Ilham al-Madfai: The Baghdad Beatle
In England, he met with high profile musicians like Donovan, Georgie Fame and even Paul McCartney which seemed to influence his current symbiosis of Western and Eastern music. This mix was perfect to have a modern approach to his songs all the while keeping the identity of his birth place. Especially his lyrics, mosaics of famous poems and other literary works, have gained respect from many critics and his fans.
In the 70s, he rose to fame but took another break from music during Hussein’s regime, preferring to leave the potentially dangerous Western-inspired music out of the public and instead work as a constructor around the Gulf.
Modern Western Guitar mixed with Middle Eastern traditionals
When he wanted to return to Iraq in the early 90s, he was banned for leaving in the first place and moved to Jordan where he still lives. There, he was able to take up his music again and gain popularity not only in his own country (he gained Jordanian citizenship) but also internationally, signing with EMI and playing in the Royal Albert Hall in London, an honor not many musicians get.
His bands include The Twisters (the popular Rock’n Roll band of Baghdad that probably earned him his nickname “the Baghdad Beatle”), 13 1/2 and the Elhalm Band all popular in their own rights. Additionally, his recorded English songs resurrect old times of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.