Iraqi singer Kadim Al Sahir teams up with UN for song calling for ceasefire in Gaza

Artist reveals project during session at Sharjah International Book Fair

Kadim Al Sahir credits reading with helping him treat depression he often felt on stage. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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Iraqi singer Kadim Al Sahir has said he is to collaborate with a UN group on a song calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza War.

Speaking at the Sharjah International Book Fair on Friday, the singer said the English track is tentatively titled Hold Your Fire, which he wrote the original lyrics for in Arabic.

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“As soon as I finish my engagement here in the book fair I am heading to the airport for a flight to New York,” he said.

“We already booked a studio and once I get there we will be working with the choral group who are also featuring on the song.”

Al Sahir says the track aims to raise awareness about the increasing death toll in the conflict in Gaza, with more than 9,000 killed in Palestinian enclave, the majority of whom are civilians.

Israeli strikes are retaliation for an attack by Hamas that killed about 1,400 people.

Al Sahir says the song has been translated into English in a way "that was consistent with the message of the song".

“Some of the English lyrics are: 'Hold your fire, we are tired'," he says.

The UN is yet to comment on the planned track.

It is not the first time Al Sahir has written songs calling for peace.

In 1998, he won the Unicef award for the song Tathakkar (Remember), which spoke of the “wounds of innocent angels” caught in conflict.

He also went on to perform the song at the UN headquarters in New York.

During the US invasion of Iraq, Al Sahir teamed up with Lenny Kravitz for the anti-war song We Want Peace in 2004 and collaborated with Sarah Brightman the following year on The War is Over (Entahat Al Harb).

Al Sahir says that words and melody are sometimes the only way to cope with the trauma of conflict.

“And this is why the idea for Hold Your Fire began as soon as the war began,” he says. “From that day there were phone calls and messages with fellow artists, where we asked ourselves what we should do?

“From the beginning, I wasn’t really interested in doing a nationalistic song, I wanted a song dedicated to a global audience.”

While fans await the finished recording, Hold Your Fire has Al Sahir returning to the studio with a sense of vigour and purpose, something he says he has been missing over the past year.

In his conversation with moderator and TV presenter Nada Al Shaibani, Al Sahir reveals he has been wrestling with depression brought on by the recent deaths of close friends, including the poet and songwriting collaborator Karim Al Iraqi, who died aged 68 from cancer in September.

As well as becoming a source of escapism, reading new or old books helped because it expanded my mindset, new inspirations and new ideas
Kadim Al Sahir

“I felt like I was lurching from one crisis to another and each one resulted in me losing friends that were dear to me,” he says.

“It got to such a level that when I got on stage to perform I felt like I hated my very existence. There was no joy and no reason for hope.”

However, in addition to the support of family and friends, Al Sahir credits his love of reading for helping get him out of the hole.

“As well as becoming a source of escapism, reading new or old books helped because it expanded my mindset, new inspirations and new ideas,” he says.

Al Sahir witnessed some of the positive effects literature can have when he visited Al Iraqi in an Abu Dhabi hospital as his health deteriorated.

He recalled how Al Iraqi was working on the Epic of Gilgamesh, an Arabic opera set to star Al Sahir and based on the 4,000-year-old epic Mesopotamian poem.

“Karim was in great spirits and full of humour,” Al Sahir says. “He would also tell me about the mistakes we have in the project and suggest how we can improve them.”

With the pair reportedly working on the opera as far back as 15 years, Al Sahir is adamant it will eventually see the light of day.

“I will finish it but I want to present it in a way that’s not a purely commercial project,” he says. “God willing, it will be released the way it is meant to be.”

Updated: November 05, 2023, 11:06 AM