Jack Kennedy

The American University of Iraq, Sulimani (AUIS) started the Kashkul Initiative to document the flourish of culture after ISIS occupation. With his history of producing, engineering and songwriting on the road, Jack Kennedy was perfect for the job. 

“I started playing music in high school and got a job at Cherokee Studios in Hollywood. I’ve always done different things: starting bands, writing music, producing, performing. I travelled the U.S. on Greyhound buses writing and producing music with anyone I could find. To get the email that said ‘Hey man can you come to Iraq?’ I was like ‘Hell yes.’ They were looking for a unique person who could produce but also do it remotely.” 

“The university had been documenting the spoken stories of people living under ISIS in Mosul and they realized how important music was to that culture. As soon as ISIS took power music was made illegal. You couldn’t play music, you couldn’t perform it and they took all music off the radio.” 

“These people were occupied from 2014-2017 and they had to stop making music. A musician told me he had to bury his violin in his backyard and cover it with a garden, which was a common story I heard. He wasn’t doing political activist music; he was a classical musician but he was still in danger.” 

Finding artists to record was sometimes a challenge for Kennedy.   

“It was like A&R for a record. We would be on Facebook and Instagram scouring Mosul for different musicians and reaching out to see when we could meet and record. Some people were really vocal and happy to be able to openly express how bad it was under occupation. There was a lot of musicians who wanted to do it but felt it wasn’t safe. Some people agreed to record but no photos or videos.”   

“I recorded a lot of people from a lot of walks of life. Mosul is like any big city. There’s a lot of hip musicians there. 

Kennedy adds “I did a lot of hip-hop, but also classical musicians and a lot of recording in the Yazidi refugee camps. Some of the musicians have never been recorded so they were amazed by a multi-track studio the size of a sandwich. For them to get on these good mics and good preamps and play them back…one kid now has a record that sounds like it could be on Universal Music and he’s like ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe we just did this in my room.’” 

Once he tried the MixPre-10T, Kennedy knew that it was the best tool for the job.  

“The MixPre-10T being portable and battery-powered was crucial. Electricity is not reliable at all. At least once an hour the power just cuts off. Using the MixPre was great and was just so easy. I had it in an over-the-shoulder bag with a bunch of mics. We recorded Yazidi refugees in a camp so it’s all tents. 

“With the MixPre I could throw it on the floor and hope nobody stepped on it. The thing I really loved more than anything was setting it up and letting it run and not looking at a computer screen. I could focus on the moment and the things in the real world. It was such an enriching experience. I was riding around Baghdad in an SUV in the Green Zone and I couldn’t believe music has gotten me here.” 

For more information on Jack and his current and past projects: find him on Spotify and Instagram @kennedykarate

Find more information on the AUIS Kashkul program here and on Instagram @kash_kul.

Sample recordings from Kennedy’s trip can be found here.

Kennedy’s article with Tape Op documenting his trip can be found here.

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