Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 February 2020

The great uniter: Iraqi singer uses music to calm tensions in protest hot-spots

Ahmed Torky's songs have given a boost to protesters and inspired others to join in

An unlikely star has arisen from Iraq's anti-government protests.

Armed only with a guitar, singer Ahmed Torky's dulcet tones and varied retro repertoire are boosting the mood in protest sites across the country amid political uncertainty almost four months after the anti-government movement started.

The demonstrations started across Iraq in early October with people taking to the streets their frustration over corruption, lack of jobs and an out-of-touch political class.

They’ve drawn a deadly response from security forces that has resulted in the killing of some 500 people and left thousands injured.

As the protests face more and more pressure to fold, Mr Torky has become a symbol of positivity.

“I always wanted to become a symbol of positive energy,” Mr Torky told The National.

He began his role in the drawn-out demontrations in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square- the city’s cultural and resistance hub.

“When I first went to Tahrir Square the situation was terrifying which pushed me to play the guitar and sing on a daily basis to ease tensions,” he said.

Mr Torky, who began his career at the age of 15, sings traditional Iraqi hits from 50s and 60s, filling various corners of the square with upbeat melodies.

“I managed to secure a musical hub in the square especially after people began to notice the importance of it,” he said.

He said despite receiving threats, he had vowed to carry on, establishing a band called “Taraf Baghdad” meaning “luxurious Baghdad” in reference to the talent the city harbours.

After a month of conducting daily performances to the protesters, various musicians and artists felt comfortable to join his group.

“I encouraged talented residents of many provinces where the protests were taking place to perform and show their skills to the protesters,” he said.

“Any musician is welcomed and can become a member of our band,” he said.

The protests have been comparatively peaceful by day but have become more violent after dark as police have used tear gas and rubber bullet to battle the youth.

But Mr Torky believes that by dancing and singing to the tunes, protesters have shown signs of unity and solidarity, moving past ethnic and sectarian divisions.

“I was surprised to see crowds gathering around me, welcoming me with great joy despite the hardships they’ve endured,” he said.

Music presents peace and coexistence that needs to transcend throughout all sectors of society, he said.

He called on the international community to shed light on human rights abuses committed against the protesters.

The artist also stressed the importance for a process of national reconciliation.

“We have appealed to the international community and human rights organisations, but we have not seen any results,” he said.

“We hope that through music and art the country’s youth will be taken in to consideration,” he said.

The country has only recently emerged from decades of back-to-back conflicts, including a 1980s war with Iran, the US-led invasion in 2003 and a battle against ISIS that ended in late 2017.

Yet, Iraq’s young, leaderless, and revolutionary protest movement has rattled the political elite leading to the resignation of former prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in December.

Updated: February 6, 2020 02:17 PM

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