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BAGHDAD, August 14, 2018 (AFP) - In a dusty Baghdad dance studio, conductor Mohammed Amin Ezzat tries to fire up the musicians of Iraq’s National Symphony Orchestra, whose enthusiasm has been dampened by eight months without pay.

An ageing air conditioner fights to beat back the summer heat in the cramped space at the capital’s School of Music and Ballet as the 57-year-old maestro leads the group through a rehearsal of Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.

The shaggy-haired Ezzat and the 40 musicians surrounding him are gearing up to perform at Baghdad’s National Theatre on Saturday, but the group’s morale is at an all-time low.

The ensemble has lost more than half its members since the start of the year, when the government issued a directive barring state employees with two jobs from receiving two salaries.

The anti-corruption measure was suggested by the World Bank and should affect only about a third of the orchestra’s musicians, but because of delays in carrying out the reform wages have been withheld from the entire group.

“The orchestra is in great danger,” Ezzat said. “Some don’t have enough money to come, and others are disappointed by the impact of politics on the orchestra.”

Officially created in 1970 after several unsuccessful attempts, Iraq’s national orchestra has survived decades of upheaval.

It has survived wars, an invasion, a 12-year international embargo and a devastating three-year battle against Islamic State group, which came to an end last year.

But this may be the last straw for the outfit, a collateral victim of Iraq’s “war on corruption”.

“Not being paid for eight months has had a terrible psychological effect on the musicians, but we’ll continue to resist peacefully with our music,” said Ezzat, who became the orchestra’s first Iraqi conductor in 1989.

“We’re on the precipice but sure that we won’t jump.”

When all its salaries are tallied up - including the maestro’s US$1,200 a month, peanuts for a major conductor - the orchestra costs the state about US$85,000 a year.

The sum is a pittance compared to the exorbitant figures siphoned off by ministers and high officials who have either fled or been arrested.

The conductor, his daughter Noor, a timpanist, and his sons Hossam and Islam, who play the cello and viola respectively, have all been without a salary since January.

But according to Raed Allawi, the head of administrative affairs at Iraq’s culture ministry, there is no reason to panic — the wages will soon be paid.

“The finance ministry has asked for a regularisation of contracts. Verification measures are under way and this explains the late payment of wages,” Allawi said.

“The orchestra is one of the country’s cultural showcases (and the ministry) respects its artists and their talent.”

For the symphony’s musicians, however, these are empty words they have heard already.

‘Two professions, same passion’

Saad al-Dujaily, a professor of medicine and a flutist, thinks the measure is regressive.

“I’ve been an obstetrician and a flute player since I was very young,” he said.

Because of the directive, the 57-year-old practitioner — who teaches at Baghdad’s al-Nahrain University and plays in the national orchestra — is now entitled to only one salary.

“In Iraq, we’re proud to have more than one job, to have more than one love, to practise two professions with the same love and passion,” said Dujaily, who plans to continue with the orchestra to help preserve its quality.

Further along into the rehearsal, the studio’s electricity cuts, a common occurrence in a country plagued by power outages.

The orchestra cannot afford the diesel to fuel the building’s generator.

But the musicians play on in the windowless room, using their cell phones to illuminate the sheet music.

“There have been crises in the past, but this is the worst,” said Doaa Majid al-Azzawi, an oboe player.

“Especially since my father and I are musicians. We don’t know what will happen, but if the orchestra has to stop, it’s culture in Iraq that will be dealt a deadly blow,” the 25-year-old said.

When the studio’s lights eventually make a flickering return, so too does the players’ enthusiasm, and the music swells.

“As long as we live, music will live. It’s our culture,” said Noor, the conductor’s daughter.

LAGOS, July 4, 2018 (News Wires) - France’s president on Tuesday visited a nightclub founded by legendary Nigerian Afrobeat star Fela Kuti which has a reputation as a hedonistic haven filled with frenetic music, scantily clad podium dancers and the stench of marijuana smoke.

Emmanuel Macron arrived at the famous venue in the Nigerian city of Lagos, just hours after holding talks and a joint news conference with President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital, Abuja, at the start of a two-day visit to the West African country.

During the news conference he stated his commitment to helping the fight against Islamist militants in the northeast, before embarking on the hour-long flight to Lagos to visit the New Afrika Shrine.

The venue replaced the famed original - created by Fela - which burned down in 1977. It is managed by the musician’s sons Femi and Seun who continue their father’s musical and cultural tradition.

Fela - a singer, composer and saxophonist - pioneered the Afrobeat sound by combining organ riffs with West African drumming and brass instruments. He was famed for his sexual exploits, marijuana smoking and fearless critiques of Nigeria’s military regime.

LOS ANGELES, May 21, 2018 (News Wires) - The 2018 Billboard Music Awards paid tribute to the students and teachers affected by recent deadly shootings in Texas and Florida, while the night also featured show-stopping performances by iconic singer Janet Jackson and K-pop group BTS.

A tearful and emotional Kelly Clarkson, who hosted the awards, opened the show in honor of the 10 people who died Friday at Santa Fe High School, barely able to speak as she urged the audience and the world to do more to prevent deadly shootings from happening. She said she was asked to hold a moment of silence, but chose instead to call for “a moment of action.”

“Once again we’re grieving for more kids that have died ... I’m so sick of moment of silences ... it’s not working,” she said Sunday, almost in tears. “Mommies and daddies should be able to send their kids to school.”

Shawn Mendes and Khalid were joined onstage by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Show Choir for the song “Youth,” a performance occurring three months after 17 people were killed at the school in Parkland, Florida.

Mendes and the choir members wore sweaters that read “Youth,” while Khalid’s shirt read “Protect Our Guns Children” with “Guns” crossed out.

The show wasn’t all somber though: Jackson rocked the Billboard Awards with an energetic and powerful performance of her past hits in an epic week that included her 52nd birthday and the 25th anniversary of her groundbreaking “janet.” album.

CAIRO, April 17, 2018 (MENA) - Culture Minister Enas Abdel Dayem left for Germany Tuesday to receive a music award that went to Cairo Steps, an international music ensemble consisting of Egyptian and German musicians.

Cairo Steps merges and combines traditional Egyptian and oriental grooves with modern jazz improvisation, classical music and contemporary sounds.

The music is influenced by spiritual ethnic music as well as European music traditions and alternates between strong unison rhythms, virtuoso solos and meditative soundscapes.

Founded in 2002 as a collaboration between Egyptian oud player Basem Darwisch and German pianist Matthias Frey, Cairo Steps has now become an international ensemble under the musical direction of German pianist and producer Sebastian Müller-Schrobsdorff.

CLEVELAND, April 15, 2018 (AP) — Bon Jovi reunited onstage with former members for a powerful performance celebrating its admission into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the late icon Nina Simone was welcomed to the prestigious music club with show-stopping performances from Lauryn Hill and Andra Day.

Bon Jovi’s portion of the four-hour-plus event ran an hour-long Saturday night, with Jon Boni Jovi giving a lengthy 20-minute speech onstage. He said he had been writing the speech for years.

Richie Sambora, who left the New Jersey band in 2013, and Alec John Such, who left in 1994, embraced their former bandmates with a hug after each one spoke onstage to accept the honor. They performed together, too, singing crowd favourites like “Livin’ on a Prayer,” ″You Give Love a Bad Name” and “It’s My Life.”

They were inducted by Howard Stern, who provided many laughs to the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, where the Rock Hall is based.

Stern joked about Rock Hall co-founder Jann Wenner, questioning why he was qualified to vote on who enters the prominent organisation. Stern said the Rolling Stone magazine founder doesn’t play any instruments “but he did start a great magazine ... and now it’s the size of a pamphlet.”

Simone, who died in 2003, was welcomed into the Rock Hall in a groundbreaking way from performers who she has deeply inspired, from Hill to Mary J. Blige.


By Menna Ali

Romanian-born pan-flutist Gheorghe Zamfir enthralled a large audience with his performance in Cairo on Friday night, in support of cancer patients all over the world. Speaking at a news conference before the concert, Zamfir, 76, said that he wanted to encourage cancer patients to use melotherapy to fight cancer and to overcome it.

“I am sure that the instrument I play has extraordinary powers not only to heal this deadly disease but to enrich the human soul as well,” Zamfir told reporters.

Zamfir said that he had conducted a great deal of research throughout his 60-year career on how music therapy can treat cancer. “I found out that the pan-flute is the most effective instrument in treating many diseases, especially cancer.”

“Music against Cancer” was the title of Zamfir’s concert which was attended by Minister of Culture Enas Abdel Dayem, a host of celebrities and public figures and more than 75 experts in the treatment of cancer, from all over the world.

The revenue from the charity concert was earmarked for the non-profit organisation Breast-Gynecological International Cancer Society (BGICS), in support of cancer patients, and to raise awareness of the importance of checking the disease which is spreading fast across the world.  “I know that people listen to celebrities. It is natural for people to go and check themselves if a celebrity asks them to do so. That is why I am encouraging everyone, everywhere to have themselves checked.

This will help patients to discover cancer early.  And this will help in the treatment of the disease, because as we know if the disease becomes chronic, it becomes hard to treat,” Zamfir said. The great musician added that he was pleased to be sending his message from Egypt. “I am very happy to be here to send this message to the world, especially as I am surrounded by Egyptians who have a very old civilisation,” he said.

This is the fourth time for Zamfir to visit Egypt. He gave a concert in 2009 at the Opera House in Cairo and Alexandria.“I am very happy to be here this evening. And I know that I am very lucky because everyone in the world dreams about visiting Egypt at least once in their lifetime. And this is my fourth time,” the veteran pan-flutist said, laughingly.

Zamfir is known as «The Master of the Pan Flute». He is especially famous for his piece, «The Lonely Shepherd», which was written by James Last, recorded with the James Last Orchestra and was first included on Last's 1977 album, Russland Erinnerungen (Memories of Russia).“If I could, I would love to treat all the people in the world at this very moment with my soul and heart,” Zamfir said.

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