Renowned Iraqi cellist Karim Wasfi to play in Northampton as part of a tour for peace

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Published: 5/5/2022 11:11:06 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Acclaimed cellist Karim Wasfi, conductor of Iraq’s National Symphony Orchestra, will give a free performance Saturday, May 7, at First Churches Northampton as part of his work with a nonprofit group that uses art as a response to war and violence.

Known as the “Cellist of Bagdad,” Wasfi gained international recognition beginning in 2015 when he gave improvised recitals at the sites of several suicide attacks in Baghdad. As one account put it, “He was the man who made beautiful music among the wreckage of a great city.”

He’s also the president and founder of the Peace Through Art Global Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to promote peace, healing, and de-radicalization through music, creativity and cross-cultural understanding.

Wasfi has played at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, for instance, and in other settings where violence and terrorism have played out.

At the First Churches event, which begins at 5:30 p.m. (doors open at 5 p.m.), he’ll be joined by local artist and activist Jehann El-Bisi of Sunderland who will read from her forthcoming book of poetry as Wasfi plays his cello.

Four of El-Bisi’s paintings will also be on display, representing healing, activism, synergy, and nature-inspired transformation.

“This event is an offering of light, and encouragement to all, during these challenging times,” the two artists said in a statement. “It is a celebration of collaboration, interconnectivity, synergy, the yearning for peace, and the restoration of humanity, felt by people around the world.”

According to program notes, Wasfi’s appearance is part of his current tour in the U.S., one designed to bring together “poets, painters and musicians” for a “people-to-people cultural arts exchange between the U.S. and Iraq.”

Organizers for the event include First Churches, Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee, and the Karim Wasfi Center For Creativity — Peace Through Arts.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

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