Kathem Al Saher (Arabic: كاظم الساهر born September 12, 1961), most commonly Kazem Al Saher or Kadim Al Sahir, is an Iraqi singer, composer, and poet. He has been dubbed as the "Elvis of the Middle East", "Robbie Williams of the Middle East", "Iraq’s Diplomatic Ambassador to the world", "Iraq’s Ambassador for Peace" and hailed as a true legend of Arabic Music.
Kathem has established himself as one of the most successful singers in the history of the Arab World, having sold more than 30 million albums since the start of his career. Ranging from big romantic ballads to more political work, from pop to Arab classical, he has covered the spectrum of music with the kind of success not seen since the heyday of Umm Kalthum.
He is also known as the passenger of love. Saher was born in Mosul, 1957 to a mother from Najaf and a father from Baghdad. He grew up and spent a large part of his life in Alhurrya city in Baghdad. He is the son of a palace worker and has nine siblings.
Apart from his mother, Saher's family were not 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. Saher's brother once took him to a local cafeteria, full of aspiring musicians who had no work and warned him that Kazem will end up the same. However, he said that the only way to achieve success is if you respect your music and respect yourself.
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. When he was ten, he began writing songs. After selling his bicycle, Saher 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 to accompany his new found talent. 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
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 Iraq-Iran war. The song was the source of a major controversy due to particular sensitivities that were common during that era. Officials in the Iraqi television asked him to either change the lyrics or have it banned. His refusal to change the lyrics and it's 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. But protesting was pointless. Al-Saher had managed to circumvent the system and had become a star on his own terms -- he even undertook his first U.S. 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.
The Persian Gulf War and its immediate aftermath kept him pinned in Iraq, but in 1993 he transferred his base of operations to Lebanon, where he met and formed a songwriting partnership with noted Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani in 1996, who wrote lyrics to his music, before settling permanently in Cairo. Qabbani, wrote the lyrics to more than 30 of Kathem’s songs. In addition to Qabbani’s poems, Kazem sang both political and romantic songs for Iraq and Baghdad, highlighting the feelings of the citizens of Iraq as well as their tragedies.
Al-Saher 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 also 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.many of his compositions are being taught in many universities of United States of America,especially his very famous song "Baghdad" is still taught other than America.
While still a fan of large orchestras, whose sweep helps define his music, he's 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. To coincide with it, he performed on the Mondo Melodia tour, which crossed the U.S.
In 2003 Kathem colloborated with Lenny Kravitz and released an anti-war song at Rock The Vote, titled "We Want Peace", and shortly afterwards releasing a song entitled "The War Is Over" (Entahat al harab) with Sarah Brightman. In 2004, Saher continued to work with various renowned international artists including Grammy Award winning producers KC Porter, Dawn Elder and Quincy Jones. His latest collaboration "Love & Compassion" (Hob Wa Haneen) was the title track for the Arab American National Museum Collectors 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 Dawn Elder and KC Porter
In year 2004 he participated in world wide special broadcast concert special “We are the Future” Concert produced by Quincy Jones in association producer Dawn Elder at the Roman Maximos Stadium in Rome for the benefit of the children of the world. Also, 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 broadcasted live on 10 satellite channels. Additional in 2004 he was the first Arab artist to participate in the Official Album of Athens Olympics.
Kathem Al Saher released his new album entitled "Sewar" (Photographs) in September, 2008.