Listen to and download “Sketches for Iraq

About this piece

This piece is a mixture of produced pieces, live performance on the oud and computer, and field recording, drawing on material I’ve made in the past year. Through these sketches tied together, tied together in theme and narrative, I attempted to portray a story of Iraq over the past ten years through sounds and textures that reflected dignity, pain, loss, disorientation, and an ever-present strength, with a deep sense of respect towards the Iraqi people.

As a series of narrative sketches, the first section is consciously overlaying two musics that come from different places — the vocal of the maqam, the sophisticated and poetic urban art music of Baghdad, with the rhythm of the choubi, a popular dance. This was presented intentionally.

In following section, live oud taqsim (improvisation) is played over a soundscape constructed of synthesised sounds, city noise, the sounds of a plane taking off, distant music, and the alphabet disconcertingly recited in layers to evoke a sensation of loss and being lost, being left with the most basic elements of sound and the city, exile, and a loss of structure and place.

The following section in the jurjina rhythm is meant to evoke a sense of return, and the familiar, basic melody of my composition is my tribute to the pesta (song) of Iraq.

A bittersweet melody ends the narrative, with dialogue and the sound of conversation and the announcements of a plane, signalling transition and the notion that things have irreparably changed, but not without some sense of hope and strength.

Karim Sultan

Karim Sultan is an electronic music producer, oud player, contributing editor and producer for Kalimat Magazine, and an arts+culture professional currently based in Doha, Qatar. Of Syrian and Indian descent, he calls Toronto and Cairo home.


For the past few years, my music production has been increasingly influenced by the music of Iraq through its richness, diversity, and depth. Although my practice draws upon contemporary electronic production, popular and art music from around the world, and particularly the music of Egypt, when I first heard the maqam music of Baghdad and the various genres of popular music from throughout the country and its diaspora for the first time, I was struck by the complexity of its rhythm, its honesty, and its power and feeling. It simply did not sound like anything else I knew and subconsciously my practice since then has been a sort of response. Oud players such as Munir Bashir, Jamil Bashir, and Naseer Shamma, maqam singers like Yusuf Omar, popular/dance musicians like Hossam Al Rassam, and the music of the southern khashabe have had immeasurable influence on the way I make music.