Kadim “Caesar” Al Sahir (Arabic: كاظم الساهر; born September 12, 1957 in Mosul, Iraq), is an Iraqi singer, composer, and poet. He has been dubbed the “Caesar of Arabic Song”, and “Iraq’s Ambassador to the world”.
Kadim Al Sahir, whose first name is also written alternatively as Kazem, Kadhem, Kathem, Kazim and his family name alternatively as Saher, El Saher and Al Saher, has established himself as one of the most successful singers in the history of the Arab World, since the start of his career. Ranging from big romantic ballads to more political work, from pop to Arab classical music.
He performs with an orchestra of twenty to thirty musicians on Arabic percussion, oud, qanun, nay, and a full complement of strings (violin, cello, and bass). While some of his work makes use of electronic musical sounds, he avoids the use of synthesizers to imitate acoustic instruments. His work frequently features Iraqi folk instruments, rhythms and melodies.
Al Sahir was born in Mosul, Iraq on September 12, 1957. His father lived in Baghdad, but was a Samarra native from the tribe of Darraj. He grew up and spent a large part of his life in Al-Hurrya neighborhood in Baghdad. He is the son of a palace worker and has nine siblings.
Apart from his mother, Al Sahir’s family were never supportive of his direction in becoming a musician. They had no faith in him that he would become successful, and instead wanted him to become a doctor or a lawyer. Sahir’s brother once took him to different places where people usually sang, and told him it’s your choice to sing a respectful way or you can choose to do it the bad way. He said that the only way to achieve success is if you respect your music and respect yourself.
Kadim was inspired early in life by the biggest poetry talent Mustafa Ksayer, who was a source of inspiration as well, not only to him but also to all the lovers worldwide, as he has more than 2700 love poems to his one and only love Haya Dashwaly
He excelled in his studies and entered the Teachers Institute where he graduated in 1978 and was appointed as a teacher in a school in Mosul. His interest in music grew as he listened to songs via the radio that offered him the chance to become familiar with the works of composers such as Mohammed Abdel Wahab.
Kadim wrote his first song at twelve, a romantic piece in the classical style, composed for a girl he liked. He used to work with his father in early age after school to help the family. At age twenty-one he enrolled at the Baghdad Institute of Music where he studied for around six years.
When he was ten, he began writing songs. After selling his bicycle, Al Sahir purchased a guitar at the age of twelve, and began learning the arts of the guitar for about three months before writing a classical song. It was his first instrument.
He later switched to the oud, a much more common instrument, and was accepted into the Baghdad Music Academy at the age of twenty-one. Although keen to break through in the music business with his songs and voice, he found himself rebuffed by all the producers he approached, who would only let him sing their own material. Instead, he used the back door to gain entry to the industry.
1980–1999: Rise to fame
Before he entered the Baghdad Academy of Music, Al Sahir’s self-education through the radio had given him a firm grounding in the rich repertoire of mid-twentieth-century Arab vocal music. He became deeply familiar with both classical Arab music, whose main representatives were Egyptian and Lebanese, and the Iraqi maqam repertoire, a local art form featuring vocal virtuosity and a vast repertoire. This solid grounding in traditional musical styles informs his work as both a singer and a composer.
One of his first videos was made in collaboration with one of his friends that happened to be a television director. The song in question was “Ladghat El Hayya” (The Snake Bite), which was broadcast on Iraqi television in 1987, one year before the end of the Iran–Iraq War. The song was the source of a major controversy due to particular sensitivities that were common during that era. Iraqi television officials asked him to either change the lyrics or have it banned. His refusal to change the lyrics and its consequent ban only helped to increase the popularity of the song. He began giving concerts all over the Persian Gulf and recording his music with Kuwaiti labels.
A year later, he had a hit with “Obart Al Shat” (I crossed the river). Some of his professors at the Academy denounced it as sha’bi (pop) music, anathema to those who taught classical music. Al Sahir had managed to circumvent the system and had become a star on his own terms—he even undertook his first US tour in 1989. Having conquered pop, Al Saher turned around and established himself in the Arabic classical world with “La Ya Sadiki” (No, My Friend), a magnum opus that lasted almost an hour and found him using maqams (scales) that hadn’t been used in Iraqi music in several decades, revitalizing a tradition.
In 1991 and due to the Persian Gulf War, Al Sahir transferred his base of operations to Jordan where he lived with his family for a few years. He considers living in Jordan as an important period of his life and career success later on. Al Sahir performed some of his most successful concerts which were held in Jerash and produced two successful albums at Sameer Baghdadi’s Studios in Amman, Jordan.
After that he moved to Lebanon, where he met and formed a songwriting partnership with Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani  in 1996, who wrote lyrics to his music, before settling permanently in Cairo. Nizar Qabbani, who previously wrote lyrics to 1960s-1970s super-stars like Abdel Halim Hafez and Najat Al Saghira, wrote the lyrics to more than 30 of Al Sahir’s songs. In addition to Qabbani’s poems, Al Saher sang both political and romantic songs for Iraq and Baghdad, highlighting the feelings of the citizens of Iraq as well as their tragedies.
Al Sahir continued to release albums and tour, having become the biggest name in Middle Eastern music, one whose ballads grew bigger and more romantic, but who would write classically influenced works, even when they might hurt his popularity.
By 1998, he had ten albums under his belt and was lauded as an artist, not just a pop star. That prestige brought him wider fame and a growing international reputation that won him a UNICEF award for his song “Tathakkar“, which he performed in the U.S. for Congress and the United Nations – one of the first real post-Gulf War cultural exchanges. The following year, he recorded a tribute to the Pope with the Italian Symphony Orchestra.
Releasing numerous albums and touring extensively, El Sahir has become both a high-grossing superstar and a respected musical artist. His reputation has continued to grow through collaborations with European and North American artists, including Sarah Brightman and Lenny Kravitz. He continues to live abroad, residing alternately in Cairo, Dubai, Paris, and Toronto.
While still a fan of large orchestras, whose sweep helps define his music, he has remained open to technological innovation, even going so far as to allow a remix (by fusionists Transglobal Underground) of his song “La Titnahad”, taken from his 2000 release El Hob El Moustahil (The Impossible Love), the first of his albums to be given an official American release.
In 2004, Al Sahir colloborated with Lenny Kravitz and released an anti-war song at Rock The Vote, titled “We Want Peace”, and shortly afterward released a song entitled “The War Is Over” (Entahat al harab) with Sarah Brightman, which was released on her album Harem and his album Hafiat Al-Kadamain which was highly praised in the middle east. Both of these international duets were executive produced by Dergham Owainati, of EMI Music Arabia, for Kadim’s part.
In 2004, Al Sahir continued to work with various international artists including Grammy Award-winning producers KC Porter, and Quincy Jones. His collaboration “Love & Compassion” (Hob Wa Haneen) was the title track for the Arab American National Museum Collector’s edition honoring the artists that have made the most significant difference with international audiences. The track features Grammy winning singer/songwriter Paula Cole, Def Jam recording artist Karina Pasian, and Luis Conte, produced by KC Porter and Dawn Elder.
In 2004, he participated in the worldwide broadcast concert special “We are the Future” concert produced by Quincy Jones and coordinated by Dawn Elder at the Roman Maximos Stadium in Rome for the benefit of the children of the world. In December 2004 he participated in the opening of the Gulf Football Championship (Khaleeji 17) in which he performed the return of Iraq Operette which was broadcast live on 10 satellite channels. Additionally, in 2004 he was the first Arab artist to participate in Unity, the official album of the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Releasing his album Ila Tilmitha on November 11, 2004. The album contains collaborations with the Moroccan Asma Lmnawar whom Kadim discovered earlier and introduced to the Arab world in her first due song with Kadim “ashko ayaman”. The album also included the song “Ahbeni” written by poet Nizar Qabbani, shoot as a video clip by Husien Duibes and it was a major hit in the year 2004 alongside the song “Ila Tilmitha”
Major achievements on the artistic and humanitarian level, we were able to raise your interest and convince you that he definitely deserves to be awarded the AUB Honorary Doctorate in the field of Arts and Culture for the year 2006. The United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, named Al Sahir as the new goodwill ambassador for Iraq for the year 2011. For Al Sahir, this was a compelling reason to visit his country after 14 years
He sang Bokra “Tomorrow”, a charity single that was released on November 11, 2011 at 11:11 pm, along with Rim Banna, Akon, Tamer Hosni, Diana Karazon, Marwan Khoury, Latifa, Souad Massi, Hani Mitwassi, Saber El Robai, Wa’ed, Sherine and other Arab artists. The single will distribute the proceeds of its donations to various organisations, institutions and charities with arts and culture programs. The eight-minute song was written by Majida Al-Roumi, and produced by Quincy Jones and RedOne.
His father worked in the local palace, and although his government wage did not make him a rich man, he raised ten children. Sahir was the youngest of eight brothers. He got married at early age, and is currently divorced.
El Saher left his country Iraq in the early 90s after the Gulf War and has found a home since in every Arab country. He is not settled yet in one country and moves mainly between Cairo, Dubai, Beirut and Paris. He has two sons, Wisam Al Sahir, who is married, and Omar Al Sahir.
Kadim is also a grandfather to Wisam’s daughter Sana. Kadim is currently living in Morocco.
- Shajart Al-Zeitoon (The Olive Tree)(1984)
- Ghazal (Gazelle) (1989) Music Box
- Al-Aziz (The Beloved) (1990) Al-Nazaer
- La Ya Sadiki (No, My Friend) (1991) Music Box
- Efrah (Be Happy) (1992) Stallions
- Banat Alaebak (Your Tricks are Over) (1993)
- Salamtek Min Al-Ah (1994) Rotana
- Baad Al-Hob (After Love) (1995) Relax-In
- Aghsili Bilbard (Wash [my heart] with Hail) (1996) Rotana
- Fi Medreset Al-Hob (In the School of Love) (1997) Rotana
- Ana Wa Laila (Me and Laila) (November 28, 1998) Rotana
- Habibeti Wa Al-Matar (My Lover and the Rain) (January 1, 1999) Rotana
- Al-Hob Al-Mustaheel (Impossible Love) (July 27, 2000) Rotana
- Abhathu Anki (Searching For You) (September 28, 2001) Rotana
- Qusat Habebain (A Story of Two Lovers) (January 1, 2002) Rotana
- Hafiat Al-Kadamain (Barefooted) (June 29, 2003) Rotana
- Ila Tilmitha (To a Student) (November 11, 2004) Rotana
- Entaha al Mushwar (The Journey Is Over) (11/1/2005) Rotana
- Yawmiyat Rajul Mahzoum (Diary of a Defeated Man) (March 29, 2007) Rotana
- Souwar – Pictures (Images) (August 30, 2008) Rotana
- Al Rasm Bel Kalimat (Drawing with Words) (October 14, 2009) Rotana
- La Tazeedeeh Lowa’a (Don’t add to him anguish) (January 30, 2011) Rotana
Kadim always has restless successful tours around the world where he performs for his Arab fans. Kadim performed in so many foreign countries including USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Australia and England. He has performed in these venues:
- Royal Albert Hall in 1997, 2004 and 2006.
- Sydney Opera House, 2002.
- Beacon Theater in New York 2003.
- The Circus Maximus in Rome where Kadim was a part of “Live from Rome’s Circus Maximus” (May 16, 2004). Participants in this concert included other artists such as Carlos Santana, Alicia Keys, Norah Jones and Andrea Bocelli. Famous international producer Quincy Jones warmly introduced Kadim Al Sahir to Rome’s concert attendees whose number exceeded 500,000.