By Matt Kelley (Radio Iowa)
A singer, composer, guitarist and humanitarian from the Middle Eastern nation of Jordan is showcasing her musical talents in southeast Iowa this week. Farah Siraj (FAR-ah sir-AHJ) is making multiple appearances in Oskaloosa, including at the George Daily Auditorium where Allison McGuire is the community engagement and education director. McGuire says Siraj is being accompanied by musicians from all over the world.
“One flew in from Spain, the flamenco guitarist, and her percussionist grew up in Germany,” McGuire says, “and they are an international group but representing Jordanian folk music, and Farah’s unique mixture of flamenco and more jazz styles with that Arabian music.” In her bio, Siraj says she approaches music as a medium for peace and a way to amplify the voices of people around the world who need to be heard. She is considered Jordan’s “Musical Ambassadress” and focuses on raising awareness about the consequences of war and violence, advocating for women’s rights, refugee rights, and animal rights. The performances in Oskaloosa are in Siraj’s native language and a few other tongues.
“She does sing in Arabic, Arabic folk songs, but she also lived in Spain in her early adult years and speaks fluent Spanish, so she sings in Spanish, and she sings in English,” McGuire says, “so there actually are songs in English, Spanish and Arabic.” Oskaloosa is the current Iowa host of the Arts Midwest’s World Fest. The program offers small Midwestern communities once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to learn about the world from musicians inside and outside the US.
“Over the course of three years, we’re able to bring in two international music groups a year to be in Oskaloosa for a full week doing 12, free outreach engagements, preview performances, workshops,” McGuire says, “and then that all culminates in a final performance at the end of the week.” That final show is Saturday at 7pm in the George Daily Auditorium.
In the past year and a half, World Fest has also brought in musicians from Finland, Alaska and Ghana, who’ve engaged thousands of Mahaska County residents, performing at schools, bookstores, coffee shops, and as the halftime show of college basketball games.