Ismail Alyassiri: Transcript

Iraqi ‘ud, Marion
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Ismail Alyassiri

My name is Ismail Alyassiri, and I am from Iraq. I live in Marion, Iowa. The first time I started playing the ‘ud was in Saudi Arabia in the [refugee] camp. Since then I created like really a good passion between the ‘ud. And it became really kind of stress relief for me to express my feelings when I'm sad or when I'm happy. The ‘ud is my everyday companion there, and I'm very attached to it.

And I play a lot of songs and everything. I grow up in a very, very, like small town they called Salba. It is like you can see kids with torn clothes and just like bare feet running around because it's very impoverished place. When you look at life here, and when I look at my kids here and the care they get here, I would just say I am being compensated for what I've been through because I'm happy that my kids are not like living the same life I have lived there. As I grow up, I had to work to bring money to my family for my father used to serve the army, so I became automatically the man of the family in the age like 12. After that here comes my teenage days, which I had to go serve the army.

I started actually playing the songs like my folks used to play because I hear all the time they were humming those songs, and so they started to be my first songs to try.

(Music playing)

This called “Salma ya Salama.” That means she's calling somebody who's named Salma. It was written by a guy and he goes (speaking in Arabic). That means, “You betrayed our promise. And then I didn't sleep. And you can ask my pillow and blanket (laughter) that I couldn't sleep thinking of you.” And my mom used to sing it with that thin voice. She goes [singing in a thin voice], “Salma ya Salama.”. I go, “Mom, you sing it like you're on the other side of the river!” And one day she called [from Iraq], and I surprised her. I go, “Guess what I can play?” “She goes, “What?” And I go, “Listen. “And then I go—she says [singing in a thin voice], “‘Salma ya Salama’! You can play that!” [He responds], “I remember you, with this song, and I play it all the time to see you.” And then see, she started crying because she missed me a lot, and I was her oldest.

The ‘ud is a traditional instrument. It's acoustic instrument. It kind of look like the guitar, but it's--the back of it, it's shaped like half watermelon with no threads on the neck. So you can get any tune like any tune like without any problem, like the call tune as written. And it's actually half of the length of the regular guitar. On YouTube I have posted a political song about Iraq. And I wrote a lot of political songs in Saudi Arabia, like about 11 of them. I used the ‘ud, and that was like right before I came to America because I got comfortable with the ‘ud and I was playing them fine.

 I would not change the fact that I was born in Iraq because I have too much respect for the country. It's where my folks existed. I would just change the situation in Iraq as the violence of the bad situation that went through. Other than that, I wouldn't change nothing because Iraq is Iraq. It's beautiful in my eyes no matter what. As I always say, let's put our differences aside and start learning about each other instead.