Filed under: Iraq
This week’s guest post is by Jeremy Toomey. Jeremy heeded the call in an earlier post for submissions from places we have yet to cover, or needed to be covered more. And he delivered Iraq. If you have any interesting records or cassettes that you wish to share from some of the countries that we have yet to hear from – say like Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Kazakhstan, Libya, Somalia or Tanzania – or countries that we need to hear more from – like Laos, Sudan or Syria – please get in touch.
Born July 2, 1949 in Baghdad, Ashur Bet Sargis began playing music as a teenager on the organ at the local Assyrian church. Under the influence of established Assyrian musicians such as Evin Aghassi and King Biba (Edward Yousif), as well as western artists, in the late 1960s Ashur began composing nationalistic songs that have since become classics of modern Assyrian music. As Ashur recalls of his early days in the biography written for his 4-CD set “So far” (2003):
“Music was being redefined out in the rest of the world, and stars like Elvis, Paul Anka, and of course The Beatles were shining all over the place. I wanted to be a part of this transformation, and offer its fruition to my people.”
In 1969, Ashur fled the unstable political situation in Iraq, ending up in Chicago, IL in September 1970. In 1971, he formed his first band, “East Bird Band”, which released its first recording in 1973. In 1976, after relocating to Los Angeles, Ashur became the first Assyrian artist in history to tour overseas when he and his band played three sold-out shows in Australia. Soon afterwards he would travel to Iran, which at that time had the second largest population of Assyrians in the Middle East, and had long been a large producer of Assyrian music on the record labels that flourished in Tehran in the days before the Islamic revolution such as Irangram and Monogram. After two weeks of performances there, he returned to Los Angeles to record his second album, “Ashur Sargis Sings for Ancient Assyria”, which included re-recordings of hits from the first album like “Tanilee Ly-Ly” (“Sing Me A Lullaby”, with lyrics by Assyrian nationalist martyr Dr. Freydun Atturaya) and “Bet Nahren”, as well as several other songs that have since become staples of his catalogue and concerts. The version of “Bet Nahren” posted here comes from this LP, released in 1978.
Ashur Bet Sargis continues to tour (including a two week tour of northern Iraq in 1997 during which he gave five concerts which were attended by thousands of Assyrians from all over Iraq) and release albums from his current home in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more on the life and career of Ashur Bet Sargis (including the biography from which this information is taken), please see the artist’s official website at http://www.ashurbetsargis.com/.
For more information and examples of Assyrian music, past and present, visit the largest archive of Assyrian music on the internet at http://www.qeenatha.com/.