Intercultural meeting point
Weaving Culture and Music
Sumer is the name for old Mesopotamia or the land between the rivers Eufrat and Tigris which makes up modern day Iraq.It is also the name of an Iraqi godess. The folkmusic group Sumer is treated accordingly by their audience who wave their hands and hankerchiefs and sing along in celebration.
Sumer, a group that is definitely out to please its audience - came together in 1996 formed by former members of the Sunday Tea Ensemble. Anna Ottertun(song) Faiz Al Tayyar (violin)and Talal Ismail(song, oud and percussion)are the original members but Sumer is an open group that benefits from change and now includes , Marianne Holmboe(song)Ahmad Al-Jawadi(violin), Nadhum Ali(nai flute), Harmoude Sharba( song, percussion),Sara Lundgren(cello) Akram Al-Iraki (percussion)and dancer Maria Rudbo. Founder Talal Ismail is currently on a leave of absence as his recently accredited duties as builder of the new Iraqui government have called him to his home town of Mosel.
Older members teach the newer ones and Iraqi culture, music and tradition is shared with the Nordic members of the group. The talent and music of Sumer is thus passed on within the group but group members also sit and discuss and share stories." I try to explain to say- Anna -how I first came to play music and what my village looked like - we talk a lot!" says Al-Tayyar who has not been back to Iraq in 28 years and is looking forward to his returning visit. The tradition of teaching and learning is a unique aspect of Sumer - united in their passion for song, musicality and folk music. Intercultural tradition and folk music weaves a new and colorful banner as the older Iraqi men in the group teach the younger Swedish singers.
Sumer performs frequently at festivals in Sweden, Norway and Holland. Their wish for some time, refueled by political changes in Iraq has been to meet their Arabic audience, on Arabic soil and most of all to play in Iraq. Sumer plays popular Arabic tunes from the 60´s and 70´s as well as more traditional folkmusic. The musicians master a variety of styles from over 20 countries and their music is sung in a myriad of dialects, each one different from the next. These dialects are difficult to learn and not even mastered by those of Arabic descent but singers Anna and Marianne perform with natural confidence. They are often approached by their audiences congratulating them on their talents and efforts.The themes of the lyrics circle around matters of the heart such as abandonment, unrequited love,human pain and sorrow. Singer Anna Ottertun explains her initial difficulties embracing these subjects; " I felt as if I could not identify at first, that I had not suffered enough or in those ways. It depends on what kind of background you have." If it took Ottertun some time to approach these emotions there is no doubt of her vocal authenticity nor the emotions her singing evokes in the audience. Both Ottertun and Marianne Holmboe sing in a language they cannot speak and dialects from places as varied as Egypt, Sudan, Marocco and Southern Iraq.
Sumer breaks new musical ground with their mixture of old and new. Faiz Al-Tayyar, son of a Sufi priest recalls his early passion for music during a time when only religious music was allowed. He just wanted to play music that appealed to him, religious or profane and would have to travel far out of the city to do so. There he would meet with other clandestine musicians and play the music they loved. At night he would have to take a taxi home through back roads to disguise his previous whereabouts. Today Sumer is looking forward to the day when they can play these songs to an Iraqi audience that has missed them.
All of the bands male members share the same birthday; July 1st. No fatalistic coincidence, their birthdays fall on this date due to lackadaisical former Iraqi officials. "We were all given July 1st as our birthday" Faiz laughs, " but I think according to the Islamic calendar , my real birthday is on September 6th."
Author: Annika Salomonsson
Sumer formed in 1996. Their music encorporates the rich Iraqi culture and heritage as well as embraces the new. Instruments such as nai , oud , violin, cello and percussion blend with harmony and song.
Sumer´s repertoire includes musical genres such as the muwashahat from Andalusia, adwar and mawal from Egypt, makam, tawr, budhiyya, ataba, nejil, swehli, and murabbát from Iraq.