A Memoir Of A Lost Homeland
The Finns have a word – kaukokaipuu, which means a feeling of homesickness for a place you’ve never been to. I’ve been living in two places all my life; the England I was born in, and the lost world of my Iraqi-Jewish family’s roots.
As a cartoonist and illustrator I will tell their story in a graphic memoir, The Wolf Of Baghdad, journeying through their memories and my imagination. And as a musician I will source and learn the music they would have listened to. I will then present an audio-visual event where a slideshow of the memoir will accompany a group of musicians (including me) performing the repertoire.
This regularly updated blog will detail the experience of creating the graphic memoir and learning the music. The first part of the project will be about the research and development of it and at the end of this year there will be a test performance in London featuring excerpts from the work in progress. With further funding I hope to complete the memoir and record a cd of the music next year.
My family came from Baghdad and after they were driven out of their home my parents settled in London where I was born. I grew up in two worlds – the one inside the house and the one outside. Though Arabic was spoken indoors, my parents wanted more than anything to be British. Western classical music was all we heard in our house. I never heard anything Middle Eastern. Only recently have I begun to learn about Maqqam (the system of composition and melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music) and realise that the greatest composers of popular music in the Arab world (considered so even today) were two Iraqi-Jewish brothers Daud and Saleh Al Kuwaiti, who played violin and oud, respectively, in the Iraqi Radio Orchestra (see photo below).
The graphic memoir that I will draw will be wordless, based on the myth of the wolf in Iraqi-Jewish folklore I found in the book by David Sassoon, ‘A History Of The Jews In Baghdad’, published in 1917.
In the chapter on superstitions he writes –
“Dheeb. Wolf. In a house where children die in infancy, a wolf is kept in order to keep away demons. The belief is current among Baghdadi Jews that the wolf keeps away spirits and demons. In the dark they exclaim their fear of demons: “Dheeb Hader” i.e. the wolf is present. If the wolf scratches the ground they believe he is pulling out and consuming the fingers of the approaching demons.” (pp 193)
(Please click the link at the bottom of the page if you’d like to follow my progress. It would be great to hear your comments, questions and suggestions too!)