Khyam Allami was born in 1981 in Damascus to Iraqi parents, and he moved with his family to London when he was nine years old. After his first musical experience with the violin as a child, Allami took to rock music in his teens, playing bass guitar and drums in bands and developing a reputation as a creative and hard-hitting drummer.
In 2003 he began playing the oud as an attempt to engage with and revive his cultural roots. This was partly as a response to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the recognition that he couldn’t do anything about it – he chose to demonstrate his solidarity by taking up oud playing. In March 2004 he bought his own oud and decided to dedicate his life to the instrument and its music.
He has since performed at WOMAD, the BBC Proms and performed with Blur at the sold-out Olympics’ closing celebrations in Hyde Park in front of an 80,000-plus audience, following a tour with the British band. In 2010 he was the first artist to be awarded a BBC Radio 3 World Routes scholarship in 2010.
Khyman has also worked with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq and founded his own label, Nawa Recordings.
Text adapted from Khyman’s biography on his website.
There have been many waves of emigration from Iraq since the end of the 1970’s. These emigrations have taken place for various reasons: the war with Iran from 1980 to 1988 and the Gulf War in 1991 following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the occupation of Iraq by the US the UK and their allies from 2003 – 2011 and subsequent sectarian violence.
A climate of constant insecurity has led to massive population displacement. IOM estimates that there are some 1.9 million Iraqis displaced internally, and over 2 million in neighbouring states, particularly Syria and Jordan.
While Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister (1979 – 1990) immigration levels were much lower than they are today. The deep recession had reduced many of the economic pull factors for migration and the refugee producing crises of the 1990s including the collapse of the Iron Curtain were yet to happen. The British Nationality Act 1981 continued the restrictions to the rights of Commonwealth Citizens introduced in the Immigration Act 1971, and work permits became more difficult to get without specialist skills. During the 1980s racial tensions emerged which led to the riots of 1981 in Brixton, Liverpool and the Midlands.