Band of Brothers

By Shabi, Rachel | New Statesman (1996), July 20, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Band of Brothers

Shabi, Rachel, New Statesman (1996)

Shlomo al-Kuwaiti first realised the scale of things on a business trip to London during the early 1990s. Sitting in a hotel lobby with a journalist friend, al-Kuwaiti, from Israel, noticed an important-looking gentleman wearing a galabeya (robe) and surrounded by an entourage of bodyguards and assistants. Informed that this man was a senior minister from Kuwait, the Israeli thought: "My name is 'the Kuwaiti'; maybe I should say something to him."


He approached the Arab minister, who asked him directly: "Are you the son of Salah al-Kuwaiti?" When Shlomo said yes, the minister grabbed him in a firm embrace. "I think there were tears in his eyes," Shlomo recalls.

This exchange between two people from countries at such odds with each other took place because of the legendary Iraqi-Jewish musicians Salah and Daoud al-Kuwaiti. Once heroes of the Gulf, they are now, in those same states, enjoying a posthumous revival.

The brothers were born in the country of their name, moved to Iraq in the late 1920s, and swiftly gained fame for their groundbreaking music. Salah composed thousands of songs that took Arab classical arrangements to a new level, earning the brothers accolades across the Arab world.

Then the brothers migrated to Israel in 1951, like thousands of other Jews whose families had been in Iraq for over 2,000 years.

"When the plane left Baghdad and flew high up in sky, my father knew his career would hit the ground," says Shlomo. Israel was--and arguably still is--dismissive of Arab culture, seen as an oxymoron and definitely not something that should represent the Zionist state.

The brothers ran a kitchen supplies shop in a Tel Aviv suburb. "But they were never traders, they were artists," Shlomo says. "Now I understand it was very sad for [my father], but he never talked to me about it at the time. He didn't want us to be hurt by his suffering."

Salah al-Kuwaiti died in 1986, ten years after his brother Daoud.

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