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Who was Affifa Iskandar? Google Doodle honours the 'Iraqi Blackbird'

The singer was born on December 10, 1921

Affifa Iskandar was a key figure in the Iraqi music scene from the 1930s up until her retirement in the late 1970s. 
Affifa Iskandar was a key figure in the Iraqi music scene from the 1930s up until her retirement in the late 1970s. 

Today's Google Doodle celebrates what would have been Affifa Iskandar's 98th birthday.

The singer, born on this day in Mosul in 1921, is often called the 'Iraqi Blackbird', and is considered Iraq's equivalent to Edith Piaf.

She was renowned for being a master of the Iraqi maqam style of music, which is more than four centuries old, and involves a singer weaving the words of poetry over traditional instrumentation.

Here is a live rendition of Subhyat El Eid:

Her mother was Greek and her father Iraqi-Armenian. She started singing at the young age of five, encouraged by her violinist father and her musically gifted mother, and her first concert was in Erbil when she was just a teenager.

She was a stalwart of the Baghdad live music cabaret scene, a hit in Egypt, and perfromed across the globe. She also acted in films, including the 1940 A Happy Day and 1947 production Cairo-Baghdad.

Musically, she was known for her strong vocals and for the fact she sang in a distinctly Iraqi style, without feeling the need to imitate Lebanese or Egyptian performers. She was also a warm presence on stage, and was known for charming the audience with jokes when performing live.

Here she is performing Heragt Elrooh:

She performed for many leaders and rulers, and was a key part of Iraqi high society, but then voluntarily retired from the music business entirely in 1979 when Saddam Hussein came into power. Rumour has it that she never wanted to perform for him.

Iskandar died in Baghdad in October 2012 after a battle with cancer.

Read more: Why Middle Eastern Google Doodles deserve a wider airing

The doodle honouring Iskandar isn't being shown to Google users around the world, but is only on display in Iraq, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Algeria.

The Google Doodle design shows Affifa Iskandar's face, with an illustration of her performing on stage as a young girl in the background. 
The Google Doodle design shows Affifa Iskandar's face, with an illustration of her performing on stage as a young girl in the background.

Updated: December 10, 2019 09:45 AM

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