is a name that evokes the ancient art of coppersmithing in
al-Safaafir, or the
coppersmiths’ market, is a well-known market in
, memorable for the din of hammers on
copper and the glowing beauty of each creation.
The sound of the Iraqi Maqam has often
been likened to the Soug al-Safaafir for the metallic timbre of the instruments and
the percussive hammering of the ancient rhythms.
Amir and Dena ElSaffar, brother and sister, come from a family of
Safaafir (sing. Saffar), or coppersmiths, and it is from their
ancestors’ legacy that the name of the ensemble was born.
Since its inception in late 2005, Safaafir has performed
in concert halls, museums, universities,
and private parties.
2002, Amir set out on a journey to learn the Iraqi Maqam, an intricate
and highly developed vocal tradition.
In his travels, which took him to
, as well as other countries in the
, he learned to sing Maqam and to play
santoor, a 96-stringed hammered-dulcimer that is used in Maqam
performance. This was a
departure from the jazz and classical trumpet playing for which he was
already garnering a reputation, having performed with Daniel Barenboim
and Cecil Taylor, and winning two international jazz trumpet
competitions. He was set on
a new course.
When he returned to the
, he brought a djoze
(spike fiddle made from coconut) for Dena, and a pair of naqaraat
(small kettle drums) for his brother-in-law, Tim Moore.
Dena and Tim have performed together for more than a decade with
Salaam, a Middle Eastern music ensemble which Dena started in 1993.
They, too, became inspired by the Maqam of Iraq and began to
learn the repertoire from Amir. This
ensemble has an undeniable chemistry and harkens back to the old
ensembles, which often consisted of members of the same family.
is interesting and surprising to many to encounter a group of musicians
living in the
who are dedicating themselves to the
centuries-old traditions of Iraqi music, particularly because there are
few masters remaining to keep the tradition alive, either in
Fuad Mishu, an esteemed Iraqi musician who lives in the
remarked that Amir and his group were
“a miracle.” The gift of this intricate vocal tradition from
is being brought to the ears of
Americans, Iraqis, and others, as Safaafir continues breathing new life
into the music of old, against the backdrop of the 21st