You can’t spend time in Iraq without being introduced to the music of Kadhum Al Sahir (also known in much of the Arab world as Kazem). My first introduction to his music was in Dr. Riyadh’s home. It was late and I was with Riyadh’s daughters as they surfed the satellite channels and landed on a concert recorded in Egypt. They jumped up, dancing and singing to the music. My second introduction to Kadhum was six months later in a hotel room in New Jersey where I asked him to compose the music for the film.
Born in the northern city of Mosel, Kadhum was forced into exile by Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. Now the most famous singer in the Arab world, he has sold over 30 million records worldwide. Watching the concert on TV at Dr. Riyadh’s, it was easy to see why.
When I returned to New York and began editing, I used his music as the temp track. One of the most dangerous things to do when editing is to fall in love with temp music, especially if he is famous. It was too late.
I heard that Kadhum would be performing a series of sold-out concerts in the U.S. I flew to Detroit where I went backstage and gave his manager a letter and some footage. The next day the manager called to say Kadhum wanted to meet me. They were on their way to New Jersey and I should come to their hotel.
The next night I was in their hotel room in New Jersey. I was discussing the film with Kadhum’s manager as Kadhum was eating dinner before the concert. His manager explained to me, “Laura, Kadhum wants to do this, but the money you are proposing is really not enough.” From the across the room Kadhum interrupted, “The money doesn’t matter. It is for Iraq.” The manager resumed, “Well, it seems Kadhum doesn’t care about the money.”
It was another unfathomable moment in a hotel room: Kadhum Al Sahir, perhaps the most respected musician and biggest star in contemporary Arab music, was agreeing to compose music for the film.
The next time I saw Kadhum Al Sahir was six months later in a recording studio in Toronto. I arrived with great anxiety — worried I had pushed my luck on this one. It had proven difficult to contact Kadhum and his managers after the New Jersey meeting. Repeated letters and contracts went unanswered. My producer and editor were both getting nervous as we approached the end of editing without music. I finally got the confirmation that Kadhum would give me an afternoon in a recording studio in Toronto. I arrived at the studio with no idea what he was going to record. His manager pulled me aside, “Laura, you are very lucky. Kadhum is composing something very special for the film.”
And there was Kadhum Al Sahir, Iraq’s most beloved son, sitting at the table writing. A few minutes later he was alone at the microphone singing “Oh my country, when will sadness set you free?” Kadhum only performs with musicians from Baghdad, and in the control room their eyes were filled with tears.