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Q&A: Andy Lowings, a reincarnated Ancient Mesopotamian (I’m pretty sure)

05 Dec

The bull head of the Lyre of Ur peeks out of a beautiful cover sent to Andy Lowings by an Iraqi woman from Baghdad, who painted it by hand. `Iraqi bull just refused to be kept in!` Mr. Lowings said. (LPhoto courtesy of Andy Lowings)

A year ago, I discovered and wrote about the Golden Lyre of Ur Project, a multinational effort to recreate the 4,750-year-old instrument from scratch, just as the Ancient Mesopotamians did.

The project was spearheaded by Andy Lowings, a man who put his mind to doing something amazing and set out to do it. What he ended up with was a worldwide sensation (at times met and welcomed with a rose-petal-strewn stage, no less!) that brings to life an ancient world unknown to many.

Although the post mentioning the Golden Lyre of Ur Project has been on the blog since November of 2011, I wasn’t lucky enough to hear from Mr. Lowings until just a few months ago. It is an honor to now be in contact with such an amazing individual, who I’m sure is a reincarnated Ancient Mesopotamian!

So, without further delay, here is a Q&A I did with Mr. Lowings, through which I’m sure you will find him an inspiring individual that reminds us that no matter what we set out to do, passion drives us further than we can possibly imagine. He also makes it look easy, but rest assured that only he can carry it out so beautifully!

***

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and how and when you became interested in Mesopotamian history?

Of course! It`s a nice thing to be asked about yourself from across the world, thank you for taking an interest!

I`m a Civil Engineer and I spent 9 years in Dubai and enjoyed building up the city there in the 70`s. I liked the Arab world and enjoyed the big mix of different people there in the Emirates.

At that time everyone was thinking big and changing the world with new airports and hotels and roads. Everyone mixed-in well there and got on with making it happen…no-one ever said anything was impossible. I came back to Britain and then worked on the Channel Tunnel..the longest 24-mile railway under the sea to France. I think they all taught me that you could do anything.

But I also played the harp, and after a while, through the new `Internet`, I looked at the first musical instruments of all … some found in Iraq in 1929. It seemed like a well-kept secret. No-one seemed to know of these great artifacts found in Ur. All so very, very, old!

I thought that it would be a nice thing to make one of the Lyres again and see how it sounded! I thought the Baghdad Gold Lyre was the nicest and so, one day, April 10th, 2003, I said I`d make that one.

The very next day the Museum in Baghdad was looted and the original Lyre was vandalised! It was just fate. It was all over the world press and it was clear that it was a well-loved Iraqi icon. So I had to make a playable version of it.

Lyre_in_downtown_DC_rs[1]

Transporting the Lyre into Washington DC to the Smithsonian Theatre! (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

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How is the Golden Lyre of Ur project doing now that it’s been around for a few years?

What started just as a hobby suddenly became of interest to lots of other people, and I managed to involve them into helping…though to be honest it was clear what existing sympathy there was, for ordinary Iraqis after the war. People were very kind and offered to help in what fields they could.

Since then, we have discovered lots about other aspects connected to the instruments of the Royal Graves at Ur. There are cuneiform texts and linguists busy interpreting them, there`s musicians and archaeologists, precious metal workers, artists and museums…all who have lots to give, in connection to these ancient times.

So we have tried to involve them too, in the story of these first musical instruments. We go to talk about different aspects to various groups. People are eager to find out what we have learned or just to hear the story of how we made the Gold Lyre again and how it connects us all today. We go to museums, universities, schools, conferences and festivals all over.

But we always try to make the connection to Iraq and its past, and so it`s always special when we meet Iraqi people who are interested. We met the Baghdad Museum staff one day in London and they were amazed at what everyone had made.

Even Kadim Al Sahir came and sat inside the van to see the Lyre with me after his concert at the Albert Hall in London…whilst hundreds of fans were outside shouting! He was a great guy.

We have just performed at the local college to drama students and later this month we will go to Cambridge University for archaeologists there. We will be providing the music! So there are lots of ideas for how to bring the Gold Lyre of Ur to people`s attention.

But of all the places, we would rather go to Iraq, and show people our Gold Lyre there and bring it to life right there in Baghdad and Basra.

After the "Githarra al someria"  show.  With Prof. Donny George, Dr Hadi Hind (Iraqi Cultural Attache), Jennifer Sturdy and Andy Lowings. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

After the “Githarra al someria” show. With Prof. Donny George, Dr Hadi Hind (Iraqi Cultural Attache), Jennifer Sturdy and Andy Lowings. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

You said that the unfortunate looting of the Baghdad museum in April 2003 inspired you to recreate the Golden Lyre of Ur, which lay in pieces afterwards. You’ve also said that you’ve recently recreated some Sumerian jewelry. How did this latest project come about, and what did it entail?

The Gold Lyre was found with 68 women, and it`s likely that the last player who had her hand over it in death was a woman, so in many ways this is a project about women. The jewellery was so spectacular (most of it by the way is still behind the back of the museums in storage there is so much of it) that as part of a performance we could perhaps show a little of the style of the period too.

We went to the British Museum and asked to see the jewellery, and they were kind enough to give us free access. It was such a strange feeling to really hold such tremendous objects from so long ago. We had a little gold offcuts and so thought to make the “Gold choker” which we inspected there in London.

There are actually around 60 of them and thousands of beads and silver objects in the museum. Many of the items are amazingly detailed and as good as anything made today. Tiny details and scrolls and carvings were quite impossible for me to learn how to do. But a jewellery maker near here was giving lessons so I spent the winter making the simpler Gold Choker: alternating gold and lapis lazuli triangles in a neck band.

The finished Gold Sumerian necklace in its box. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

The finished Gold Sumerian necklace in its box. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

Every lady we show it to wants to put it on herself! It immediately makes them look like Queen Pu’Abi herself, and so it`s an added side to our performances. I`m sure in Iraq it would be hugely interesting to the women there.

Are there any other projects related to Mesopotamia you’ve worked on or are working on?

The languages of Mesopotamia are largely unknown or too complicated for people to understand. But only this year the book “Teach Yourself Spoken Babylonian” has been published and so now gives anyone the possibility to actually pronounce the dialects of the old regions! A Cambridge University don has discovered this and so we are making some songs in the real dialects of the time. With the Lyre as an accompaniment of course, it will be a new CD of Mesopotamian hit numbers… from their Sumerian Top “Sixty” maybe?

Recording our new Gold Lyre of Ur song, in November. Its called “The Flood” and its sung in the original Akkadian language by Stef Conner. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

Recently, we played the Gold Lyre of Ur in Germany at Lake Constance to a conference of 450 world Lyre players. We were given a huge stage and lights and even a special welcome of rose petals strewn over the stage for the Lyre`s arrival. It was most moving.

So we thought that we might, in future, invite some dancers to make a collaboration with the Gold Lyre. And even to invite an artist to create some backdrop stage images; paintings, to set the scene for what the Gold Lyre of Ur is all about. Scenes of old Iraq, old civilisations and reconstruction and new civilisations..

Positive images for the future, I hope. Yet the last chapter of our book has not yet been written..and that must be the visit to Iraq.

How has doing the amazing work you do in educating the world about Mesopotamia in a most unique way changed your life?

It`s been an honour to direct the course of a project. One which started just as a hobby and which now connects so many different people. One which can do some good.

Without doubt it has changed me and everyone who has been involved with it, though it`s not always been simple and easy, I have to say. We have met such great, great people. Brave people, and clever people, kind people who have not asked for anything in return for helping.

Last week a lovely hand-painted Lyre cover was sent to us from a lady in Baghdad (pictured at top of post)…”I wanted to help you,” she said.

I hardly know her name. Who wouldn`t be moved by such generosity coming this way?

***

Be sure to check out the Lyre of Ur website at http://www.lyre-of-ur.com, where you can learn more about the project, and see if you can witness it where you are!

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