28 Jan 2023



'This collection is a wonderful glimpse into old Iraqi folk music.'

'Priceless collection of early recordings from the Levant, taken from old shellac 78's and masterfully compiled by Honest Jons.'

'For anyone interested in high-quality historical recordings, Give Me Love... is a true gem for such connoisseurs. This compilation features music from the Iraq region and it is completely void of contemporary electronic beats and arrangements. However, the music was first recorded in the 1920's for 78 rpms. The sound clarity is superb throughout the CD. This is Arabic folk music that features characteristic, male and female vocals and the violin, zurna, lute, and various percussion. Some of the music is from Kuwait and Bahrain. 20 musicians are featured. The music of a classic era in Kurdish history is not to be missed. It is a real treat to discover early, recorded music. Do yourself a favor and enjoy the flavorful tastes and sounds of the Middle East with Give Me Love: Songs of the Brokenhearted...' ~ Matthew Forss

Give Me Love: Songs of the Brokenhearted: Baghdad, 1925-1929 is the second in Honest Jon's series of albums exploring the earliest 78s held in the EMI Hayes Archive. 

'In the mid-1920s, The Gramophone Company -- soon before it became EMI -- employed two or three Europeans to criss-cross Iraq. They logged regional demographics, assessed the German competition, and checked out the scores of record shops and hundreds of musical venues. In Kerbala, its man fearfully disguised himself as an Arab. This was the groundwork for three sessions, conducted in Baghdad in the second half of the decade, which produced nearly 1,000 recordings. Business was good -- the first group of records, though deemed aesthetically unsuccessful by the company, immediately produced 12,000 sales through just two outlets in the city. Drawing on the full range of these Baghdad recordings, this is a wondrous, deeply poignant glimpse of social living since obliterated, in which ethnicities, faiths and traditions appear woven richly together, however precariously. There is dance music featuring Arab folk singers from the countryside, backed by professional Jewish musicians in Iraqi styles popularly termed "Egyptian," perfected in nightclubs where the first duty of the secular women singers on this album was prostitution. Also including some Arabic word-play, in a nod to the musical form of the Arabic mawwal, a Hebrew hymn is kick-started with a cry of "Allah!," most likely from one of the Jewish performers. There are pieces from Bahrain and Kuwait, sometimes mixed together in one performance; the different dialects are far-flung. There are beautiful, high, and lonesome Kurdish violin improvisations and some unaccompanied circular breathing on a zourna so unearthly it seems to cross late Coltrane with Sun Ra. All the songs are characterized by searing emotion and crises of feeling, many by erotic urgency. As with the other titles in the series, the recordings have been startlingly restored at Abbey Road; they are presented here with full translations, rare photographs, and notes -- including an extensive interview with a citizen of Baghdad throughout this period, who knew many of the musicians here personally.'

'In the mid-1920s, The Gramophone Company sent representatives into Iraq to investigate the indigenous music found in its record stores and performance halls. Their research laid the foundation for sessions that produced almost 1,000 recordings. The selections on this disc, restored from their original 78s, present a compelling multicultural portrait of Iraq that is all but forgotten today.

Rural Arab folk singers, Kurdish violinists, professional Jewish musicians, and prostitutes share equal billing. Various ethnicities, faiths, and dialects intermingle in a delicate balance that seems impossible by today's standards. This disc reveals a different side of Iraq from the more festive Choubi Choubi! released by Sublime Frequencies a few years back, one perhaps more somber but also more poignant.

Even without the album's title, the intense, passionate yearning for love or at least some sort of comfort comes through in this music, whether in the pained vocals of Hdhairy Abou Aziz's "Wenini" or the Kemani Noubar's lonesome violin on "Taqsim." Although the historical value of this collection is important, the virtuosity of the musicians is the real highlight. Blazing runs and hypnotic drones form the background of Badria Anwar's "Lega Taresh Habibi" while polyrhythmic hand drums work with pleading vocals to entrance the ear on Said El Kurdi's "Aman Aman Zakko." Sayed Abbood's voice in "Shlon Aslak" encompasses a vast emotional and aural landscape, commanding attention with every breath.

Not understanding the languages in which these songs are sung has its drawbacks at times, slowing some of the album's flow and tiring the ear in places, but that's almost to be expected on a collection of this breadth and length. The bulk of the material is an exciting hybrid of cultures that blends styles and beliefs in expressions of emotional crises and longing.'

Collecting recordings of small ensembles found in and around Baghdad in the late 1920s, this compilation sheds light on a misunderstood region whose recent history obscures its cultural legacy.

By Joe Tangari

'The Iraq War is a cataract in our understanding of the nation of Iraq and its modern history. It clouds the way we view and think about the country to the extent that we in the United States are blinded to anything beyond the violence of the last few years and the atrocities of the Saddam Hussein era. The obscuring effect of recent events leads me to believe that Honest Jon's Give Me Love might be the most important archival compilation of the year. Outside of a very small number of performers, including oudist Munir Bashir and jazz musician Amir ElSaffar, very little Iraqi music has ever made an impact internationally. Indeed, for most of the 20th century the popular music of Iraq and most of the rest of the Arab world lived completely within the shadow of Lebanese and especially Egyptian artists.

This compilation, then, represents one of a precious few attempts to provide a clear window into the cultural life of a widely misunderstood place-- the Iraq of the late 1920s, during a period of British hegemony in the region that began when the Ottomans were driven out of Mesopotamia during the First World War. The Gramophone Company and its subsidiary His Master's Voice-- HMV today-- were the first major companies to make recordings in 1925. (In the pursuit of record buyers' money the world over, Gramophone unwittingly provided one of the greatest cultural services of the 20th century by sending its recording engineers across the globe to document local musics-- I'd give a lot to be allowed several weeks in a hypothetical Gramophone vault.) Others quickly followed, including Polyphone, Baidaphon, Odeon, and Columbia, but all the recordings included here are drawn from HMV's nearly 900 78 rpm sides, all made from 1925 to 1929.

When approaching this compilation, it's important to remember something that's true of records from all eras: the recording medium is a part of the music. In today's studio, you might have 64 tracks, 20 different kinds of microphones, and an infinite amount of extra gear your can pile onto a record. Then, they had a mechanical recording device with a horn that the musicians had to be carefully arranged around to get the right mix of sounds. The dawn of electrical recording was right around 1925; by 1926, it was the norm in most of the world. But the liners here state pretty plainly that most of these records were made without microphones, and I frankly don't know enough of the difference to argue the point. What I can tell you is that this disc is nearly devoid of the surface crackle of 78s, and the sound is very clear. But one shouldn't expect a modern range of frequency response, as the low-end of performances rarely registered well on 1920s recordings.

What you will hear are impassioned performances, instrumental and vocal, from some of the most well-regarded performers in Baghdad of the era. Most of them are Jewish-- for various reasons, Iraq's religious minorities dominated the country's music prior to the 1950s, when the vast majority of Christians and essentially all the Jews fled. This exodus began during World War II after a pro-Nazi coup d'etat and subsequent pogrom. Audiences were split by gender-- public performances for men by women were looked down upon, and many, though not all, female singers were recruited from brothels, which was another barrier to respect. The few recordings by women included here have same melismatic fire as their male counterparts, though, and nearly every track has the characteristic Iraqi slowness that makes the country's music distinct in spite of obvious Egyptian, Persian, and Indian influences. The other caution for modern listeners is not to expect the kind of hook-filled instant gratification we're used to today-- this is music you need to soak in and feel, from the aching love songs to the frenetic instrumental taqsims.

The ornamental vocals mask often straightforward lyrics, which translate to phrases such as "I wait for my lover on tenterhooks," "Since you left me my eyes are on the brink of shutting down for good," and "Short of dying, how can I get you out of mind?" Songs of the brokenhearted indeed. The instrumentation consists of small ensembles, with violin, oud (an Arabic lute played with a fluttering, staccato technique), mutbij (a wooden double flute with a wailing, nasal tone), qanun (a type of zither) and hand percussion. Some songs include small choirs positioned far from the horn. This was an urban type of arrangement, and many rural songs were transposed to these ensembles for recording purposes-- it's important to note that these weren't field recordings, but rather popular music recordings intended for a very competitive marketplace.

I have a few small issues with the compilation itself as a package-- while the liner notes paint a vivid picture of 1920s Baghdad and provide substantial background, they also don't include any recording notes for individual tracks, or even Gramophone catalog numbers, which is the kind of information collectors of this music like to have. There's also no real account of the reasoning behind the track selection-- out of the 900 available, why these, in this order? Sometimes knowing the compilers' organizing principle can be illuminating. Those concerns aside, though, this is a compelling peek at the soul of Iraq that's been so long obscured to us by the fog of war.'

'In the last decade, the reissue game has grown from an eccentric hobby into a full-blown business. No longer is a compilation of exotic tunes dug up from far-flung regions of the map an occasional surprise, it’s an ubiquitous happening. In any given week, you can drop that hard-earned paycheck on a reissue of a rare soul group arranged by Charles Stepney barely heard on its original release in 1970; a compilation of ‘60s Turkish freakbeat psych never before available stateside; impossible to find recordings of an Arabic instrument with 70+ strings threaded across a sound box made of wood and fish skin; or a retrospective of early-’90s UK dance records compiled by a revered ragga jungle DJ. And that’s just on the front page of the Honest Jon’s Record Shop website.

Now that decades-old Nigerian funk bands have become as widely heard as contemporary Seattle indie rock bands, our ears are gradually being attuned to more exotic sounds. The majority of these reissues are extremely accessible, but they are also allowing listeners everywhere to be exposed to genres, regions and cultures that otherwise are unreachable due to geographical, financial and cultural boundaries. This is obviously good. And it is leading to releases unthinkable in any other setting. For example: the latest from the Damon Albarn-helmed Honest Jon’s imprint, Give Me Love: Songs of the Brokenhearted – Baghdad, 1925-1929.

To most Western ears, Middle Eastern music has never been an easy pill to swallow. Instrumentation, tone, scales, harmony and rhythm differ to such a degree, that most first-time listeners would probably have little patience for the region’s traditional music. Now add nearly a century’s difference of cultural evolution to the mix, and you have a truly challenging listen. But this compilation – culled by Mark Ainley, responsible for an impressive number of Honest Jon’s and Soul Jazz releases – has a motif that transcends nearly every culture: the emphatic emotional resonance of lost love.

Besides the usual incentives for purchasing an Honest Jon’s reissue – the impressive packaging, remastering (this time care of Abbey Road), and liner notes, which includes an interview with a Baghdad citizen from the period who knew some of the musicians involved – Give Me Love offers a glimpse into an era of Iraq when ethnicity and culture intertwined symbiotically. In fact, as the liner notes state, “the music collected here is diverse, sometimes syncretic.” The musical traditions of Iraq, Bahrain, Kurdistan and Kuwait sit side by side, and in some cases overlap. And the 22 cuts included are pulled from around 900 sides recorded by the Gramophone Company over four sessions in Baghdad from 1925-1929. They are sonic artifacts left over from a burgeoning record industry trying to expand into new, unexplored markets.

As stated before, to unaccustomed ears the music may not be completely accessible on first listen. Once you dig through the liner notes, though, the setting in which the music was crafted begins to take shape, and a whole new dimension is added to the sonic elements. These are heart-wrenching ballads; torch songs amplified by trying geographical conditions, impending political conflicts and oppressive living situations.

Take, for example, Sayed Abbood’s “Shlon Aslak.” His voice wreathes with only oud and violin accompaniment. The song scrapes along with little discernible rhythmic or melodic progression, but the emotion is undeniable. The exact depths of that emotion though is only revealed in the translation of the lyrics:

“Short of dying, how can I get you out of my mind?
My agonising pain and my cries go on and on.
Everyone except me is asleep.
I toss and turn; sleep eludes me.”

It’s a moving piece as one comes to understand the meaning behind it. The listener can’t help but be buried in the emotional weight of the lyrics and Abbood’s matching croon. The music may be foreign, but the sentiment certainly is not.

There are many other discoveries to be made during this rare insight into early 20th century Iraqi culture. The stories of the musicians known, the setting in which the recordings were made, the interwoven cultures and musical styles, and even pictures from the era are revealed within the immaculate packaging. And most importantly, it humanizes the region to those of us who only know its tumultuous contemporary setting. Everyone has felt the pain of unrequited love; it is one of the very few feelings each and every one of us can relate to.'

By Michael Ardaiolo


La richesse de la musique iraquienne est issue d’une longue histoire mouvementée. Ses traditions remontant jusqu’à l’ère Abasside (+/- 750 à 1250), période ou le Moyen-Orient était contrôlé par un vaste empire établi à Baghdad, intègrent également plusieurs éléments hérités de la culture de l’empire Ottoman, de la musique perse et plus tardivement de la musique populaire du Liban et de l’Égypte. Avec la compilation Give Me Love : Songs Of The Brokenhearted, la compagnie Honest Jons trace un portrait de la musique populaire mélancolique enregistrée en Irak pendant les années 1920, une époque où la plupart des musiciens professionnels de Baghdad étaient d’origine juive. Les pièces présentées sur cette compilation sont un échantillon de quelque 900 chansons enregistrées pour le compte de la compagnie Gramophone/EMI entre 1925 et 1929 et qui étaient destinés aux magasins de disques iraquiens sous la forme de 78 tours.

Dans le monde arabe, la langue est véritablement au cœur de la culture et la poésie y est une des formes d’art, sinon la forme d’art la plus respectée. La musique quant à elle, est plus accessoire et sert, via ses modes musicaux, ses orchestrations et ses tempos, à établir des ambiances qui mettent en valeur le texte ainsi que la performance d’un chanteur ou d’une chanteuse. Souvent, les pièces sont improvisées et/ou prennent la forme de chansons à répondre où chacun des couplets est suivi d’une reprise instrumentale de la mélodie par l’orchestre. Les orchestrations sont généralement assez simples et comprennent des instruments à cordes comme le violon et le oud, un cousin du luth, traditionnellement associé à la musique du Moyen-Orient, des instruments à vent et des percussions. Les rythmes sont simples, répétitifs et les tempos modérés permettent à la voix de bien être mise en évidence ; les variantes provenant principalement des intonations et des tremolos dans la voix du chanteur.

À écouter :

Le ton de Give Me Love : Song of the broken hearted est définitivement mélancolique et à première écoute, les chansons peuvent sembler similaires. Les gens d’Honest Jons ont cependant eu l’amabilité d’inclure des traductions, des résumés ou encore de courtes explications permettant de mettre en contexte et d’apprécier les subtilités de chacune des 22 chansons de ce disque. La pièce Min Fergetak Lilyom / Since The Day You Left est une chanson assez simple où un homme se sent ignoré par celle qui l’a laissé. Typique, efficace et preuve que la peine d’amour est un de ces sujets universels et intemporels.

I haven’t slept since the day you left.
You were away for five days, it felt like a thousand.
Ohhhh, ohhhhh.
You walked past with your nose in the air, you never said hello.
Accursed by your love, I am not worthy of greeting.
You walk past with your nose in the air, you’re not interested in me.
My undoing was to tall for a beautiful, dark woman.

Les Rythmes Étranges

Various – Give Me Love: Songs Of The Brokenhearted - Baghdad, 1925-1929

Label: Honest Jon's Records – HJRCD35
Format: CD, Compilation
Country: UK
Released: 2008
Style: Arabic Folk Music, Sawt, Arabic Classical Music

1. Mulla Abdussaheb - Ya Yumma Weya Baba 3:19
2. Sayed Abbood - Min Fergetak Lilyom 3:54
3. Dahi Ben Walid - Soubhanak Allah 3:32
4. Sultana Youssef - Khouthni Bthemmetak 3:32
5. Salim Daoud - Abuthiyya 3:48
6. Khedayer Bin Kessab - Taqsim 3:17
7. Mulla Seoud El Koweity - Anouh Ithal Hathy 3:32
8. Said El Kurdi - Kassem Miro 3:37
9. Siddiqa El Mullaya - Wehak El Kab Walkossein 3:23
10. Hdhairy Abou Aziz - Fahasboukom Hatha 3:27
11. Kemani Noubar - Taqsim 3:27
12. Badria Anwar - Lega Taresh Habibi 3:37
13. Said El Kurdi - Aman Aman Zakko 3:31
14. Siddiqa El Mullaya - Ma Tehenn Alayya 3:27
15. Sayed Abbood - Shlon Aslak 3:54
16. Kementchedji Alecco - Taqsim 3:18
17. Salim Daoud - Abney Eqdah - Part 1 3:37
18. Salim Daoud - Abney Eqdah - Part 2 3:38
19. Hdhairy Abou Aziz - Wenini 3:31
20. Sultana Youssef - Malek Ana 3:30
21. Badria Anwar - Ahis Ras Eddelil 3:31
22. Saleh Ibrahim - Taqsim 3:31

Compiled By, Liner Notes – Mark Ainley
Design – Will Bankhead
Liner Notes – Yeheskel Kojaman
Liner Notes [Translated By - 'abney Eqdah'] – Sara Manasseh
Liner Notes [Translations By] – Hassan Ramadan, Honest Jon's Records
Mastered By – Andy Walter

Thanks to the EMI Hayes Archive.
Mastered At – Abbey Road Studios