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“In the mid-1920s The Gramophone Company employed two or three Europeans to criss-cross Iraq. They logged regional demographics, assessed the German competition, and checked out the scores of record shops and hundreds of musical venues. In Kerbala its man fearfully disguised himself as an Arab.
This was the groundwork for three sessions, conducted in Baghdad in the second half of the decade, which produced nearly one thousand recordings — and drawing on their full range, Give Me Love is a wondrous, deeply poignant glimpse of social living since obliterated, in which ethnicities, faiths and traditions appear woven richly and meltingly together, however precariously.
There is dance music featuring Arab folk singers from the countryside, backed by professional Jewish musicians in Iraqi styles popularly termed ‘Egyptian’, and perfected in nightclubs where the first duty of the secular women singers on this album was prostititution. A Hebrew hymn is kick-started with a cry of ‘Allah!’, most likely from one of the Jewish performers. There are beautiful high and lonesome Kurdish violin improvisations; and some unaccompanied circular breathing on a zourna so unearthly it seems to cross late Coltrane with Sun Ra. All the songs are characterised by searing emotion and crises of feeling; many by erotic urgency. ”

Startlingly restored at Abbey Road; with full translations and notes — including an extensive interview with a citizen of Baghdad throughout this period, who knew many of the musicians here personally.

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