With more than two dozen records and numerous international awards to his credit, Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn has earned a reputation as a globe-trotting troubadour who protests social injustice along with probing the spiritual realm. Cockburn traveled to Iraq in January as part of a religious delegation to assess the humanitarian situation there. Sojourners editorial assistant Jesse Holcomb spoke with Cockburn about his experiences.
Sojourners: Did you find time to make music while you were in Iraq?
Cockburn: The most interesting point came when we were invited for lunch by a visual artist who was fond of cooking a particular kind of fish, according to a Sumerian recipe. It was amazing to be in a place where the people are using recipes that go back 2,500 years or more. He said he was going to invite a young ud player. Ud is the Arabic lute that's characteristic of Middle Eastern music, and the precursor to the European lute and modern guitar. I got to play with this young guy who was quite good and had a lovely singing voice - I didn't know what the songs were about because, obviously, he was singing in Arabic.
But he played, then we had lunch, and then I played and he started jamming with me, so we ended up in this kind of improvised jam that really worked. It was exciting to play with somebody whose background was so different but whose ears were really tuned. We were both careful to not get in each other's way and to try to complement what each other was doing. It worked really well.
Sojourners: Not everything works really well in Iraq these days....