Iraqi man keeps tradition of gas bottle delivery singing alive

Mountazar Abbas, 22, is the last gas delivery man in Baghdad

In the Karrada district of Iraq's capital, residents awake to a gas bottle delivery man's dulcet tones – once a countrywide tradition, but now a solo act.

Mountazar Abbas, 22, is the last gas delivery man in Baghdad to announce his arrival by singing.

"My heart rediscovers love, as if it learnt nothing from past suffering," croons Mr Abbas, in homage to famous Iraqi singer Yass Khodr.

When he sings from of his cylinder-laden rickshaw, he brings smiles to customers' faces.

"When people recognise my voice, they open the door of their home and shout out to me," Mr Abbas said. "Others call me on the phone – but they still ask me to sing."

Carrying on the trade of his father, Mr Abbas has traversed the streets and alleys of the shopping district in the heart of Baghdad since 2007.

Grocer Ahmad Ali, 30, says he supports the tradition of the singing gas delivery man.

"There were many in the past, but it's over," he said.

Other delivery men now play recordings of music to announce their arrival, Mr Ali said.

Many broadcast songs by famous artists through loudspeakers.

"Frankly, it's annoying," said Mr Ali.

"I buy my supplies from [Mr Abbas] … who has a nice voice."

The often melancholy choices of delivery men who opt for recordings sometimes lead to online ridicule.

"Why do they then want to subject us to sad tunes when they deliver our gas?" asked Mukhtar Taleb.

In the past, there were many singing delivery men, said Kamal, a 55-year-old resident of Al Jadida district of Baghdad.

"I used to tell them that they had a beautiful voice and I even encouraged several of them to take part in competitions on the radio," he said.

Under dictator Saddam Hussein, who was deposed in the US-led invasion in 2003, a panel on Iraqi TV and radio assessed talented singers.

The panel comprised musicians, art critics and poets, and its favourite singer would record a song.

It was a launch pad for many musical careers.

After the invasion, which was followed by bouts of sectarian violence, the panel disappeared.

From 2005 to 2007, extremists who controlled parts of Baghdad banned singing and carried out a purge – some musicians were killed, while others saw their instruments destroyed.

The tradition of the singing delivery man has also disappeared across much of the wider region.

In Jordan's capital Amman, authorities have since 2012 required gas sellers to broadcast Beethoven's For Elise only, so as to avoid a cacophony of competing sounds.

In Lebanon and Syria, sellers once delivered gas on donkey-drawn carts and announced their arrival by honking a horn.

But now customers go directly to suppliers.

"Everyone does as they see fit. I opted for the traditional way and most of my clients prefer to see me sing," Mr Abbas said.

But there is little chance that Mr Abbas will pass the trade on to his own children.

"It is a tough and badly paid trade," he said.

Mr Abbas also sings at home, with friends and at family reunions.

He even dreams of following in the footsteps of Hatem Al Iraqi, an Iraqi singer-songwriter who now lives in Dubai.

"Hatem is, like me, originally from Sadr City", a poor district of Baghdad, Mr Abbas said.

"And before he became successful, he was in the same trade as me. He had a very beautiful voice … I would like to follow his path."

Updated: June 3, 2021 11:37 AM

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