65th Grammy Awards: Musicians from Palestine, Iraq up for prizes in prestigious music ceremony

65th Grammy Awards: Musicians from Palestine, Iraq up for prizes in prestigious music ceremony
The 65th edition of the Grammy Awards will take place in Los Angeles on Sunday, and among those up for prizes are classical musicians from Palestine and Iraq, as well artists with MENA roots in the diaspora. The New Arab takes a look at the nominees.
5 min read
05 February, 2023
The Grammys are considered music's most prestigious award show [Getty]

Dubbed music’s biggest night, the 65th Grammy Awards is set to take place in Los Angeles on Sunday, where some of the world’s biggest stars will be find themselves up for awards including album, record and song of the year.

The likes of Beyonce, rapper Kendrick Lamar and British songstress Adele lead the number of nominations, respectively. However, the awards show has not fallen short of nominees with roots in the Middle East and North Africa region, ranging from classic instrumentalists to R&B crooners, from Palestine to Iraq, as well as the diaspora.

The New Arab takes a look at the nominees from the region.

Ibrahim Maalouf

Maalouf, a Lebanese-French trumpeter is the first instrumentalist from his country to score a nomination at the prestigious awards.

Born to a musical family in Beirut, the 44-year-old is nominated for his work on "Queen of Sheba" which is up for the Best Global Music Album award, in collaboration with Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo.

The trumpeter, who is the nephew of acclaimed author Amin Maalouf, fled Lebanon as a seven-year-old following the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. He grew up in France and studied music at the Conservatoire de Paris. He also studied Arabic music, and toured with his father, trumpeter Nassim Maalouf through Europe and the Middle East.

Maalouf is the recipient of several awards, including Best Original Score for his work on the film "In the Forests of Siberia" in 2017, at the César Awards.

"Queen of Sheba" album tells the story of the young African queen’s visit to  King Solomon, and is a rendition of the 14th-century Ethiopian poem Kebra Nagast. The album, which is sung mostly in Yoruba and features both African and Middle Eastern instruments, was hailed by music website Spin as "the most interesting album" of 2022.

The Global Messengers

Panamanian musician Danilo Perez’s album "Crisálida" is nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album, and is also performed in collaboration with The Global Messengers, an ensemble which features many with Arab instrumentalists.

Among the musicians are Iraqi-Jordanian violinist Layth Sidiq and Palestinian-born cellist Naseem AlAtrash.

Sidiq, a composer and educator, is also the current artistic director of the New York Arabic Orchestra, and features in two other nominations – Best Global Music Album for "Shuruaat" by the Berklee Indian Ensemble, and Best Instrumental Composition for "Fronteras (Borders Suite) Al-Musafir Blues".

With three solo albums to his name, Sidiq released his first record Son of Tigris, in 2016. He is also the director for the Center for Arabic Culture's Youth Orchestra Program in Boston, according to his website.

Born in Jordan to musical Iraqi parents, the Grammy-nominated violinist started his musical career at the National Music Conservatory in Amman, aged 11.

Following the announcement of his nomination in November, he said: "A lot of gratitude this evening to know that I’m on three Grammy nominated categories this year!!!".

AlAtrash is a critically acclaimed cellist and assistant professor at the Berklee College of Music, whose playing style has been described as "particularly lustrous" by The Chicago Tribune.

Born in Beit Sahour in the occupied West Bank, AlAtrash began studying the cello aged 12 at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, according to the Palestinian Wafa agency.

Aside from the Global Messengers, AlAtrash is also a member of a number of other musical ensembles, and has performed at the likes of the Lincoln Centre in New York, London’s Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Opera of Oman.

When not performing, AlAtrash acts as the director of the Arab Music Ensemble at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

The Global Messengers also features Palestinian percussionist Tareq Rantisi, who is up for two Grammy awards.

Rantisi is also a composer and educator at Berklee College of Music, and is a self-taught Arabic percussionist.

MENA Diaspora

The diaspora did not fall short of any nominees, either. Iranian-Swedish R&B singer Snoh Aalegra - born Shahrazad Fooladi - scored her third nomination of her career as she is up for Best Traditional R&B Performance for her song "Do 4 Love". The song is Aalegra’s rendition of the 1978 Bobby Caldwell song "What You Won’t Do For Love". The Los Angeles-based songstress was previously nominated last year for the same category, as well as Best R&B Album.

Famed Palestinian-American rapper DJ Khaled finds himself nominated in six categories, including the prestigious Song of The Year Award for "God Did". The eight-minute, gospel-inspired song is also nominated for best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song, and features Rick Ross, Jay-Z, John Legend, Lil Wayne and Fridayy.

The 47-year-old producer is also nominated for nominated for Best Rap Album, Best Melodic Rap Performance for the song "Beautiful" and for his work on R&B pioneer Mary J. Blige’s album, "Good Morning Gorgeous", which is up for Album of The Year.

This year, the Grammy Awards will feature 91 categories for the first time in its decades-long history, and has been hailed as its most "diverse" ceremony yet.