Iraq’s Centuries-Old Black Community Still Forced to Live on the Margins of Society

Adnane Abdelrahmane, 56, beats a hand drum at his home in Iraq’s southern city of Zubair – Hussein Faleh

Adnan Abdelrahman shows off the drums he learned to play at age 12. He belongs to Iraq’s centuries-old black minority, guardians of musical traditions but relegated to the margins of society.

Centred in the city of Zubair, near Basra in the far south of Iraq, the community has its origins in East Africa.

Like other remote parts of Iraq, Zubair is a place of poverty and decaying public services, where dusty roads are lined with simple cement houses.

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While activists denounce the community’s marginalisation, talk of racism or discrimination offends Zubair’s inhabitants, who prefer the euphemism “dark skin” in Arabic to the word “black”.

Abdelrahman, 56, is a member of one of the popular music troupes that have made Zubair famous throughout the country and in Kuwait, only 30 kilometres (20 miles) away.

“It’s a profession you inherit,” he said, explaining that his uncle sang and his father played the drum. “If someone dies, his son takes his place so that the art doesn’t disappear.”

Equipped with darboukas, tambourines and large goat skin drums, musicians liven up weddings by leading the “zaffa”, a procession of song and dance to celebrate the bride and groom.

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SOURCE: Al-Monitor; AFP, Tony Gamal-Gabriel

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