The story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, on BBC Radio 4

August 15, 2016 at 4:58 pm (BBC, good people, humanism, iraq, iraq war, Jim D, Kurds, Middle East, music, youth)

BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week is Upbeat, Paul MacAlindin’s inspiring account of the creation of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.

I’m proud to recall that back in 2009 Shiraz Socialist publicised and supported this initiative and its brave young founder, Zuhal Sultan, then 18.

Inevitably, an “anti-imperialist” idiot sent in a BTL comment to the effect that Zuhal and the Orchestra were collaborators: we were surprised and honoured to receive this reply from Zuhal herself:

I wonder, if creating a youth orchestra is a propaganda? As the one who created it, it took me a year of hard work and sacrifice, and yes, I needed help from abroad as my voice wasn’t heard by my own governement when this initiative was just an idea. I needed help from abroad as there were no coaches to teach those young musicians, I needed help for reasons beyond anything you can think of. Later on, the office of the deputy prime minister noticed and helped funding a large amount of the project. It has nothing to do with politics.

I really hope that you can appreciate all the hard work that went into this by myself, the team who pulled this through and the hard working young musicians rather than being cynical.

Zuhal Sultan
Founder and Artistic Director of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.

Anyway, here’s what we posted back in August 2009; you can still follow the justgiving link to make a donation, as well:

Iraq: amidst the carnage, the music of hope

As the fascists who seek to deny the peoples of Iraq any form of reconciliation, stability or civil society strike again in Baghdad, it is easy to despair. Perhaps, then, this is the right moment to draw your attention to another face of Iraq, the inspiring  young Baghdad pianist Zuhal Sultan.


Zuhal - Music for a change

Zuhal, still just 18 years old, has formed the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI), bringing together 35 young musicians from across the religious, racial and regional/national divides. It includes Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds. The orchestra’s repertoire includes Beethoven, Haydn, Gershwin, a commissioned piece by NYOI’s composer-in -residence Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and new pieces by Iraqi Kurdish and Arab composers. They have toured throughout Iraq and Zuhal has visited the Wigmore Hall in London as a soloist and accompanist for the British tenor Andrew Staples. She would like nothing more than to take the orchestra on a similar tour. Internationalists, liberals, the left and humanitarians have, quite rightly, hailed the bridge-building work of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Zuhal Sultan and her young colleagues deserve similar support as they embark on their brave musical journey of hope and reconciliation: send a donation,  large or small, to the grassroots fundraising site

You’ll not only be supporting a brave young woman and her colleagues, but putting another nail in the coffin of sectarianism, nihilism and fascism.


  1. Saul Sorrell-Till said,

    Hey Jim, I clicked on the link to the 2009 post and its comments…that whole thread was fascinating and your responses were terrific. It was a kind of time-capsule glimpse of the kind of polarising political chaos that seems to be taking over the western world.
    I don’t think I’m an out-and-out lefty, so I’m a bit of an outsider, but at the moment it really feels like people like you are getting squeezed out – so much of what I hear is ignorant, manichean anti-imperialism, swirled in with a kind of fantastically lazy, entitled nihilism, where the idea of burning ‘things’ to the ground and starting again is held up as a necessary evil rather than completely fucking unhinged.
    Along with the cultural and moral relativism that large sections of the left have nurtured for at least the last half-century there seems to be no room for something as boringly meliorist and imperfect as parliamentary democracy and liberal universalism. That’s why reading that exchange in the comments between two very different versions of the left was so interesting. I think you can see the battle-lines set out perfectly in that comments section and it was extremely reassuring to see you give them such short shrift(which is to say, kicking their arses.).

  2. Patricia Jay said,

    I’ve listened with great admiration to Book of the Week about the orchestra but wondered if it overcame the difficulties imposed on it by the US Govrenment and was able to perform in Chicago ? I do hope so !
    It’s an inspiring story and I wish the orchestra and its founder and supporters the very best for the future
    Patricia Jay

    • Jim Denham said,

      Yes, the abridgement of the book seems to miss out the conclusion (if any) of the proposed Chicago visit; presumably the book itself tells the full story. Nonetheless, the final broadcast instalment is inspiring: truly a story of (in MacAlindin’s words) “the power of hope and blind faith in humanity”;

      The final instalment of UPBEAT, online now

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