‘We love life – but death loves us more’: the pain and power of Iraqi music

In the second part of a series marking 20 years since the Iraq war, genre-spanning artists explain the difficulties of working in the country – and the poignancy for those outside it

‘I heard an American Humvee approaching as soldiers were patrolling our area in Al-Qa’im, close to the Syrian border.” The Iraqi music producer UsFoxx is recalling a childhood memory, from 2004, during the Iraq war. “Through the open windows I heard this infectious beat, which I later learned was 50 Cent’s In Da Club. My jaw dropped.”

This unexpected but inspiring encounter was the first step of UsFoxx’s journey to becoming one of the many prolific producers and beatmakers in Baghdad today. The position of music in Iraqi culture was badly distorted after the 2003 American-led invasion which silenced many voices or stunted their evolution, but 20 years later a new generation of eclectic artists has emerged – particularly in the aftermath of the political upheaval of the 2019-21 Tishreen uprising protests – with work spanning rap, techno, experimental music, jazz and beyond.

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