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Ilham Al Madfai


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Ilham al Madfai (Arabic: إلهام المدفعي) is an Iraqi guitarist, singer, and composer.

His musical talent began to develop seriously when he was twelve years old. He started as, and still is, a guitarist at heart. His musical career formally started when he formed his first band, the Twisters, in the 1960s. They were the first band in Iraq, and probably the Arab world, that used modern instruments to play Arabic music (guitar, drums, bass, & piano). He was the first to modernise traditional and folk Arabic songs, giving a new, wider appeal and freshness, and placing it squarely in the modern era. Although the Twisters created a new wave in Arabic music, the media criticised al Madfai heavily for being an eccentric and for modifying long-maintained musical traditions . His family enjoyed a high social profile, some of them in high governmental positions in the 1940s and 1950s; they were not against his musical style as such, but were against his involvement in music in general.

A few years later, al Madfai left Baghdad for England, in order to study architecture. The young student played with a group and performed at Al-Bayt Al-Baghdadi (Cafe Baghdad) in London; he attracted an audience that included Paul McCartney, Donovan, and Georgie Fame, as well as many jazz musicians.

On his return to Baghdad in 1967 he formed his well-known band, 13 ½. This time he introduced Spanish guitar rhythms from Andalusia to Iraqi traditional songs, appealing to a newer, younger audience. He reached a peak in popularity in the 1970s, becoming Iraq’s most popular musician.


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