'The Voice Of Baghdad'

Sattar Sa'ad from Iraq was named the winner of "The Voice" during a live broadcast on Saudi-owned MBC TV from Beirut.


    On Saturday night Baghdad came to a standstill. At 8:15pm local time people began to go home. Shops were shuttered and cafés closed.

    The reason? Well, it wasn't for security reasons and the violence that plagues this city.

    The hugely popular talent show "The Voice" was broadcasting its final show at 9pm. If you have never seen it, the concept is simple. Celebrity judges pick young hopeful singers and coach them in a competition that's part based on the singing ability of the hopeful and how well the celebrity can coach them. It's attracted huge audiences globally and has versions across Europe, the UK and the US.

    For three months now Iraq has been gripped. Two Iraqi singers were chosen out of all the hopefuls who auditioned from across the Middle East.

    Sattar Sa'ad has a smile that can only be described as dazzling and hails from Baghdad. Simour Jalal is much more, well, the word "Rugged" has been used to describe this resident of the capital.

    Both young men instantly shot to stardom in Iraq. CD sales of their appearances‎ have been by far the best selling item in bazaars.

    Omar Salim is 20 years old. He and his father own Baghdad’s oldest CD and music store, Al Rowad‎ which has been in business in the Mansour neighbourhood for over 40 years. He smiles when I ask him about the show.

    "In my neighbourhood last night no one was out on the streets. Everybody was glued to the television. We watched it as a family. Ten of us all sat around on edge of our seats. Could one of us, an Iraqi really win?"

    Certainly one Iraqi in the show is extraordinary enough. To have two meant people divided themselves into camps.

    Camp Sa'ad vs. camp Jalal

    You were either with Sa'ad or Jalal. Every week Iraqi's who watched the shows had their nerves wrecked. Will Sa'ad's smile be enough? Can Jalal sing a song that will get him through? For 3 months this went on.

    As the final inched closer, more and more Iraqi's began to watch. In CD shop Omar says he saw how popular the show had become. "In the beginning we wouldn't sell that many CD's. Then when both Iraqi's did well we started to sell out. On average I'd say we sold around 70 a day".

    Seventy a day is high figure for just one shop, but it reflects the sense of pride Iraqi's felt at having two sons of the soil in the contest.

    "The Voice" is just two seasons old in the Middle East, yet it by far outstrips other shows in terms of audience numbers. The contestants come from all over the region and a spot in finals is highly coveted and regional aspect of the show highlights ‎the intense rivalry between the nations.

    When it was announced that Sa'ad had won whole neighbourhoods in Baghdad erupted in joy. In the CD shop Omar can barely suppress his smile.

    "It was such a huge moment for us in Iraq. I will never forget it. The shop has only been open a couple of hours and already I have sold nearly 150 CD's. I'm trying to get more. In the coming days I can see that people will buy his music, and posters also. I can't wait until he come to Baghdad and plays a concert. I will be the first to buy my ticket but of course I'm proud of both of them"

    It seems both contestants have won big even though there was only one winner. Both have brought a distraction to a city that's tearing itself apart. But perhaps the secret to the success of both of these young men was the choice of their songs.

    ‎In the weeks leading up to the final they chose very patriotic songs that sung of unity and loyalty to Iraq. This captured people's imagination and harked back to a time when Iraq was less divided, less violent in its cities.

    Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq with an iron fist and very few Iraqi's would like to go back to that time. But most now appreciate the security of the streets, the beauty of its parks and the ability to watch singers and performers without fear of a car bomb exploding in the streets outside in the years previous to the US occupation.

    By no means is "The Voice" claiming to be a marker of social change in the Arab world. The show certainly has its detractors, as one famous critic put it, "A cheap talent show for people who don't like music", but maybe, just maybe the cheapest form of art can also be the most potent. For one Saturday night the show brought Iraqi's of all sects, all ages and sexes together. They celebrated and cheered their sons and for that many here are grateful.

    Now though, everyone is waiting for Sa'ad and Jalal to come home and if the CD shop is anything to go by it should be quite a homecoming.



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