Dudu Tassa and how Iraqi Arabic-Jewish music became hip again

The grandson of the famous Daoud al-Kuwaiti, Tassa continues the family music tradition, bringing his fans the Arabic Iraqi music they turn to him for.

By SHIRLEY FINKELSTEIN
April 14, 2019 21:55
2 minute read.
Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis album cover

Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis album cover. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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DUDU TASSA AND THE KUWAITIS

Barby Club, Tel Aviv
April 8


The group is called Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis – and good thing Dudu had the Kuwaitis by his side. It was their musical stylings that stole the show.
 
The grandson of the famous Daoud al-Kuwaiti, Tassa continues the family music tradition, bringing his fans the Arabic Iraqi music they turn to him for.
 
Monday night, April 8, Tassa and the band performed at a packed Barby Club in Tel Aviv. The show was his first in Israel following the release of his latest album, El Hajar, in January, which conjoins Arabic music with rock and electric guitar. The group also opened for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2017.
 
Part of the allure for many of Tassa’s fans is his story. Tassa was born and raised in Tel Aviv, but his grandparents came a long way. Starting in Iraq, the Jewish family moved to Kuwait, where Kuwaiti became a musical sensation, producing songs that would became staples among all of the Arab world. His grandfather and brothers were even banned from playing, after Saddam Hussein discovered the stars were Jewish.
 
Tassa performed only a few of his new songs at the top of the show, which, due to the loud electric guitar and the poor sound system in the venue, all sounded very similar and just plain loud. Nevertheless, concert-goers knew every word of the songs from the new album and all the old ones.
 
The songs that really caught everyone’s spirit in the room were what he’s became famous for, however – more Middle Eastern-sounding notes. Nasreen Qadri joined Tassa on stage for “Tuli Ya Leylay.” The crowd clapped their hands and popped their hips as Qadri belted out the words heartily.
 
Qadri has an interesting story herself. Born and raised as a Muslim, Qadri underwent an Orthodox conversion to Judaism in 2018. 
Moving along, it is clear that without the music of the Kuwaitis, the show would have suffered greatly through Tassa’s loud, noisy electric guitar. It was tough to really appreciate the individual measures of his music at this venue.
 
A highlight for the band was when a Kuwaiti member played a solo on what appeared to be an electric lap steel guitar. The room became silent as jaws dropped and the guitarist did not let up. The songs that the band had a heavier role in were the hit songs of the night, such as “Ya um al abaya.” For this one, Tassa led the crowd in hand clapping to match the rhythm of the song. The more Middle Eastern, the greater the response from the crowd. 
 
Tassa flexed his best instrumentals with a ballad he played at the close of the show. On the classical guitar, each note was clear. His singing brought the audience to come together, and concert-goers linked themselves arm in arm, swaying.
 
The musician’s set lasted a solid hour and a half. Tassa, unlike many other stars, started his performance precisely on time, with a glass of whiskey nearby at the beginning, a refill in the middle and a glass in hand when he came out after the final bow and took the time to greet and take a photo with every last fan who waited for him.
 
Overall, the show was enjoyable, more so for the Israelis with Iraqi roots in the crowd. Many concert-goers said the music reminds them of home, and they said they loved the combination of Arabic music and rock, which does make Tassa’s genre extremely unique.

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