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Tuning Baghdad

Abraham Salman on his handbuilt khanoun.

Tuning Baghdad, an archiving project by Regine Basha, began in 1998 with collecting super-8mm home movies, cassettes and photocopies. It has since grown as a music narrative through many formats — including the original documentary website, a radio show, live concerts, and an audio-visual presentation in collaboration with Michael Rakowitz’s Dar Al Sulh. It chronicles the rich and hidden Baghdadi music history from the 1920s till the late 1940s, a time when Jewish musicians were significant contributors to Iraq’s cultural heritage, through the Iraqi Maqam Chaghli Baghdad, and the founding of Iraq’s first National Radio Broadcast station by the Kuwaiti brothers. The Jewish community of Iraq dates back to Babylonian times and its displacement in the late 1940s also meant the displacement of one of the country’s beloved cultural forms and the end of a long-lived integrated community within an Arab culture. Also available are excerpts from ongoing interviews with Iraqi Jews, as well as videos of performative story-telling sessions with Regine Basha as Tuning Baghdad Tea Salon.

Tuning Baghdad on Clocktower Radio
Tuning Baghdad host Regine Basha asks the question: can there be a musical citizenship? through her explorations into the musical history of the Iraqi-Jewish diaspora. Each episode features home recordings of the last generation of Iraqi Jewish musicians of Baghdad still performing today and beloved arabic songs from Egypt and other countries that intersect with the ensemble instruments and musical scale of the Maqam. Additionally, Basha shares “mystery mixtapes” from her own family archives.

Listen to episodes from Clocktower Radio series.

Tuning Baghdad Tea Salon
A platform for sharing stories about the last Jews to have lived in Baghdad. In some cases I sit down with members of the Iraqi Jewish community and ask for descriptions of domestic spaces, accounts of escape, and memories of the micro-local environment of their day. In other cases, I present the archival footage from the Tuning Baghdad website to a small intimate audience in the context of a temporary tea salon — most recently in Santa Fe, Berlin and Montreal.

Tuning Baghdad Tea Salon at Site Santa Fe
Tuning Baghdad Tea Salon with Art Jameel, Dubai. November 2020
Sol Basha
James Kadoori

Tuning Baghdad is made possible through collaboration with Basha’s father, a musician himself, Sol (Silman) Basha, David Basha, and production support from Marina Zamalin, Julieta Aranda, Jake Nussbaum, United Nations Plaza, Berlin (e-flux), as well as the advisory support of Dr. Ella Shohat, Michael Rakowitz and ethnomusicologists, Yeheskel Kojaman, and Abraham Marcus. This project and website is dedicated to my late father Solomon (Silman) Basha, 1925–2017.