The Journey of Music and Singing from Babylon to Baghdad: An Introduction to the Development of Iraqi Music
Anis Hammud Muidi, a music and sound effects teacher
Music and singing played a prominent role in Iraqi societies starting with the Sumerian, then the Babylonian and Assyrian civilisations (Mesopotamia). Music played an active role in festivals and celebrations, on happy and unhappy occasions, and in times of war and peace, and Iraqi society was keen to train singers and musicians in music schools.
In the pre-Islamic era, music and singing did not have rules and principles, and they were characterised by simple meanings. Poetry was the first type of pre-Islamic singing because it was chanted. At the beginning of Islam, the performance of melodies was employed in new religious forms, the most important of which were the recitation of the Holy Quran, the call to prayer, and chanting and reciting the Talbiyah (a Muslim prayer invoked by pilgrims as confirmation that they intend to perform the Hajj only for the glory of Allah).
In the era of the Rashidun Caliphates (the Rightly Guided Caliphs), the perception of music and singing varied from one caliph to another due to the succession of rulership among them, and initially in the Rashidun era, professional musicians and singers were Mawali (non-Arab Muslims).
In the Umayyad era, two musical innovations were discovered – the rhythm called Al Ramal, and Zunuj singing. Al Mutqan (perfected) singing was also introduced; it included singing two verses of poetry.
From Damascus, the centre of cultural activity moved to Baghdad, the largest and most beautiful city in the Abbasid era, which was characterised by great prosperity. The Abbasid era was a golden age for arts and literature. Music held a prominent place, and melodies were attributed to their composers. Singers were not allowed to attribute melodies to themselves until they had sung them many times.