Saleh and Daoud Al-Kuwaity

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Saleh (b. 1908 d. 1986) and Daud (b. 1910 d. 1976) Al-Kuwaity (Arabic: صالح و داوود الكويتي‎‎) were Iraqi Jewish musicians born in Kuwait as Saleh and Daud Ezra.[1] Having written some of the most famous songs of all time in Arabic music, their music is to this day famous throughout the Arab world, although they are relatively unknown in Israel (where they moved to in the 1950s).

Early life

The brothers were born in Kuwait to Iraqi parents. Their father, a merchant, moved to Kuwait from the Iraqi city of Basra together with some other 50 Jewish families to form the Iraqi Jewish community of Kuwait. When Saleh was 10 years old, and Daud 8, they received a gift from their uncle who came back from a business trip to India – a Violin and an Oud. So started their love affair with music, an affair that would one day lead them to become two of the greatest musicians and performers in the history of Iraqi music.

Saleh began studying Kuwaiti music from Khaled Al-Bakar, a famous Kuwaiti Oud player of the time. He soon began to compose his own music. His first song, "Walla Ajabni Jamalec" (By God, I love your beauty), is still heard on Gulf radio stations. While still children, the brothers started performing before dignitaries in Kuwait and making a name for themselves as "wonderkids". Soon enough, Iraqi record companies began recording the brothers and distributing their music throughout the Kingdom of Iraq. Because of Saleh & Daud's success, the Al-Kuwaity family moved back to Basra in Iraq. There Saleh joined the Qanun master Yusuf Zaarur, and learned from him the secrets of writing in the "Makam" style of composition, considered the highest and most prestigious of all styles in Arab music. The brothers started performing in the nightclubs of Basra, and after a while – a result of their growing success – the family moved to Baghdad.

Success in Iraq

The Iraqi capital, one of the biggest cultural and musical centers in the Arab world at the time and home to a very large and successful Jewish population, welcomed the brothers. Saleh used to play violin, and to compose the works and Daud performed them on oud and vocals. Saleh also started attending music school in Baghdad. There he studied both Arab and western music, and soon began receiving requests from artists who wanted him to write music for them. And so he did including, amongst others, most of the hits of the singer Salima Mourad. He accompanied also the singer Hudeiri Abu Aziz and composed also for Sultana Yussuf and for his engaged girlfriend, the singer Zakia George. In 1933, at the peak of their success, the brothers were approached by one of the greatest names in Arab music, the Egyptian superstar Umm-Kultum, whose music is today intimately familiar to tens of millions of people throughout the Arab world and beyond. Kultum, who rarely recorded works by non-Egyptian composers, contacted Saleh during one of her visits to Baghdad and asked him to write a song for her. The song, " "(Your heart is a rock), became one of the regulars in Um-Kultum's repertoire. Another great Egyptian artist (also still extremely popular to this days) who came to Baghdad and asked to work with the two was Mohammed Abdel Wahab. In 1932 Abed-el-Wahab arrived in Baghdad and asked to meet and play with the al-Kuwaity brothers. Saleh, who hoped to expand his musical horizons through the meeting with Abed-el-Wahab, was amazed to discover that the great musician actually wanted to learn from Daud and him. Saleh taught Abed-el-Wahab to use the Lahami scale, unique to Selah's music, which was later used in many of Abed-el-Wahab's famous works.

Common with the ancient communities of Jews in Iraq and many parts of the Arab world prior to the mid-20th Century, the al-Kuwaiti brothers were highly integrated into Iraqi Arab culture, and their Jewish religious identity was not problematic in the eyes of the wider public or the ruling class. In fact, the brothers became popular amongst the Iraqi elites, and they were favorite entertainers of Iraqi King Faisal, performing for him and composing music for various formal events. The highlight of this connection was a piece composed by Saleh as the soundtrack for the new King's coronation ceremony. In 1936 Iraq's Minister of Education asked Daud and Saleh to take part in establishing Iraq's first radio station. The two became founding members of Iraqi radio and, together with the Egyptian singer Fat'hia Ahmad, performed and played in the initiation ceremony. At the same time they also played regularly on King Faisal's private radio station.

The Al-Kuwaity brothers continued performing and playing throughout the Arab world up until the 1950s, gaining fame and influence with both the mass of adoring listeners and the Iraqi political elite. They recorded hundreds of works, some of them even incorporating western elements such as Waltz. In addition to mastering the high Arabic "Maqam" style they also wrote songs in the "Aa'thba" style – popular music with themes of sadness and loss. The brothers also composed music for the Arab cinema, including the music for an Arabic version of Romeo and Juliet, and worked with some of the greatest actors in the Arab world. Saleh and Daud performed regularly on Iraqi radio and continued taking part in the kingdom's major national events. They also set up two clubs in which their concerts were held – one for the summer and one for the winter. Salah al-Kuwaiti composed music also for the first Iraqi movie - Aliya wa'Assam.

Life in Israel

Throughout their career, the al-Kuwaiti brothers made use of their fame and fortune to help the Jewish community in Iraq, both with material aid for the needy and with influence in the political establishment when necessary, and their being Jews was generally not problematic. Yet, their fortunes changed quickly along with those of Jews in many Arab countries after 1948, with the expansion of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the association of Jews throughout the Arab world with the enemy Israeli state, and the rising tide of exclusive Arab Nationalism. In the beginning of the 1950s, facing increasing persecution in Iraq, the al-Kuwaiti family decided to flee the country and join the big wave of emigration to the State of Israel. In spite of their wealth and of the wide range of possibilities before them Saleh and Daud had to leave everything behind. They emigrated to the young Jewish state without using their significant Iraqi connections to gain permission to take their property with them.

Saleh and Daud's status in Iraq was of no use to them when faced with the difficulties of finding their place in Israel. Their welcome in the new country was harsh, and due to a number of factors. First, along with the masses of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, the brothers were sent first to live in a temporary "Ma'abara" in Beer Yaakov, a transit camp with very poor conditions. Later they moved to the socio-economically disadvantaged Hatikva quarter of Tel Aviv, where they would play in the Noah café. Secondly, the dominant ideology of the Israeli state at that time sought to suppress eliminate vestiges of 'diaspora culture', including Yiddish, Sephardi/Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic music. Thus, the mainstream Hebrew-language radio, which at that time was entirely state-owned and wished to promote only Western-sounding music, did not play any Middle Eastern music, even that Jewish performers of Arabic music such as the al-Kuwaiti brothers, their Iraqi contemporary Salima Murad, Salim Halali (an Algerian- and French-Jewish star), Laila Mourad (an Egyptian Jewish singer and actress), or Zohra Al Fassiya (a famous Jewish singer in Morocco).

Despite the prejudice against their music in Israel, Saleh and Daoud found a small outlet for their music on the Arabic network of "The Voice of Israel" shortwave radio service (which broadcast to Arab countries), soon becoming two of its leaders. They performed as guest soloists with the Arabic orchestra of the Israeli Radio led by Zuzu Mussa. For many years the al-Kuwaiti brothers gave a regular live radio performances, with thousands of Arabic speaking people in Israel and millions in Iraq and Kuwait listening. Thanks to the Arabic language shortwave broadcasts of the Israel Broadcasting Authority (which no longer exist), dozens of songs they wrote and composed in Israel also became hits in the Arab world. In fact, despite the constant state of war between Israel and most of the Arab world, the state-controlled radio in Kuwait and Iraq kept on broadcasting their music; however, while earlier generations of Arab listeners had been familiar and comfortable with the brothers and their Jewish identity, Arabic radio after the 1970s, increasingly under the control of nationalist movements such as the Ba'ath Party, began to change this by omitting their name, their Jewish identity, or their Israeli citizenship from credits, causing this history to be forgotten.

Al-Kuwaity music and the Arab world

Saleh and Daoud al-Kuwaiti's hits are still played on the radio throughout the Arab world today, and they have fans among both the Iraqi and Kuwaiti people and with Iraqi and Kuwaiti expatriates throughout the world. Songs such as "Foug el-Nakhal" (Above the palm trees), "El-Hajer Mu Ada Ghariba" (Neglect isn't a foreign custom), "Hadri Chai Hadri" (Make the tea), "Ma Tqulli Ya Hilu Min Wein Alla Jabek" (Tell me, beautiful one, from where did the Lord bring you?) and "Walla Ajabni Jamalek" ( ), are heard daily throughout the Arab world and are central planks in the canon of Iraqi and Kuwaiti music. In fact, a number of their songs are amongst the most famous of classical Arabic music to this day.

Song list

  • El-Hajer Mu Ada Ghariba
  • Hadri Chai Hadri
  • Ma Tqulli Ya Hilu Min Wein Alla Jabek

See also


  1. Zable, Arnold. The Age. 22 September 2007. "2.