Kuweiti, Salah

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KUWEITI, SALAH (1910–1986), Iraqi Jewish composer, violinist, and singer. He was born in Kuwait, of Iraqi parents who returned to Iraq with him at the age of 17. While in Kuwait he studied music as an autodidact by listening to records. Kuweiti, who rapidly rose to prominence in Baghdad, belonged to the category of artists endowed with a natural disposition for music, combining creative power as composer and a great ability as performer. The many-sidedness of his talent found expression in his ability to modify his musical style, masterfully passing from one type of music to another. He used to sing, to his own accompaniment on the violin, traditional Jewish religious poems and folk songs, as well as the intricate classical repertoire of the Iraqi maqam and the songs he himself composed. Among the latter was a widely acclaimed one which had been sung by the celebrated Oriental vocalist, the legendary Umm Kulthum. His songs were included in an anthology of Iraqi songs published in 1933.

In 1936, when the official Iraqi broadcasting station was opened, Salah was summoned to start up the music ensemble, of which his brother Da'ud, a fine 'ud player and composer, was a member. Salah acted as the director and conductor of the ensemble and composed the music performed by it. The music they played was in the mainstream style, which subsequently had a great influence on the new music in Iraq. He introduced innovative styles and added musical instruments from the West unknown in the Oriental music, such as the cello.

Although he reportedly performed mainstream and other Middle Eastern styles, Salah preferred the Iraqi style. All the members of this ensemble, except one, were Jewish and all of them including the Kuweiti Brothers immigrated to Israel in 1951 and continued their musical activity in the framework of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

[Amnon Shiloah (2nd ed.)]