Lebanese pop star Elissa brings hope to Baghdad with stunning concert

Elissa’s show on Friday was her second in Iraq this year

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Lebanese singer Elissa entertained Iraqis on Friday with her first appearance in Baghdad, bringing joy to a city that has suffered from decades of war and social unrest.

Dressed in an elegant floral dress, Elissa performed some of her own songs, as well as covers of songs such as Akheern Qalaha by Iraqi performer Ahmed Al Maslawi.

In a video posted on Twitter by a fan, Elissa can be seen dancing and subtly swaying during her performance of Badi Doob.

The concert was held on a stage at Sindbad Land, a theme park in the Zayouna district of the city.

“Iraq, and specifically Baghdad, needs peace or even a little peace to be vibrant again,” Mustafa Samir, who attended the concert with his friends, told The National.

“The Iraqi people needed positive energy a long time ago and Elissa has become the first one who's spread peace with her warm and tender voice."

Shortly after arriving in Baghdad on Thursday, Elissa posted a video on Instagram that showed her being escorted off the tarmac at Baghdad airport, where she was presented with a bouquet.

“My heart is happy. I feel home,” the accompanying caption said.

Tickets cost from $50 to $200, prices that many Iraqis could afford. A few days before the concert, Sindbad Land announced on Facebook that all VIP tickets were sold out.

The Arabic hashtag #ElissainBaghdad was trending on Twitter throughout the weekend.

Much of her appeal lies in her openness with fans – one reason why she was named as the leading Arab personality on Twitter in 2020 by US social media intelligence company Brandwatch found.

She encourages fans to post images and footage from her shows, which she often retweets in the days after a performance.

At one moment during her performance in Baghdad, she knelt to hug and kiss a girl who approached her with a flower.

In another, she asked the cheerful audience: “Shako mako?" – Iraqi slang for “what’s up?”

In a video shared by a fan on Twitter, a group of fans shouts: “Elissa, we love you!" She turns and says: “Love you all”, before making the shape of a heart with her fingers.

Since the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, Baghdad has been synonymous with insecurity, devastation and chaos.

Many artists have refused to perform in Baghdad and instead choose the more stable Kurdish region.

But the authorities and private sector have carried out initiatives to restore some normality in recent years by hosting cultural activities and inviting foreign celebrities.

“We were dreaming of having Elissa among us in Baghdad,” Mr Samir said. “She made our dreams come true."

He hopes she has “broken the fear barrier” among singers that will encourage others to perform in the Iraqi capital.

Elissa’s show was her second in Iraq this year.

In June, she performed in Erbil, capital of the northern autonomous Kurdish region, for the second time since 2010.

Her next concert is scheduled for the Olympia theatre in Paris on Friday, November 5.

Updated: October 24, 2021, 10:08 AM