Basics and Bling
Iraqis in Pajamas fuses ancient Iraqi Jewish prayers with original punk rock and personal storytelling. Front woman and bass player Loolwa Khazzoom belts out tunes in Judeo-Arabic, Hebrew, and English, with Sean Sebastian on guitar and Robbie Morsehead on drums. In turn vulnerable and angry, haunting and inspiring, the band disarms audiences, opening them to deep contemplation about trauma, healing, and transformation – whether addressing domestic violence, cancer, racism, mental illness, street harassment, family caregiving, or national exile.
As Grammy-award-winning violinist Lara Lavi says about the band, “Iraqis in Pajamas bring deeply personal truth through song and lyric and make us think through our own human reaction, through their profound and often cathartic performances.” Event organizer Katie Rudman adds that hearing the band live “is like being struck by a thunderbolt. [Their] music will crack you open and get under your skin in the best way. [Their] lyrics are raw and visceral, combining prayer with deeply personal truth.” Event organizer Stefanie Brendler concurs that a live performance “emotes an unencumbered power of grief, rage, and delight, through song and storytelling.”
Singer, songwriter, and bass player Loolwa Khazzoom has had a meandering career as an educator, activist, journalist, health coach, book author, and more, all with the central organizing principle of individual and collective healing. Her work has been featured in top media including The New York Times and Rolling Stone; she has presented at leading venues including Harvard University and the Simon Wiesenthal Center; and she has published two books, taught throughout the Ivy League and at universities nationwide. Ultimately ditching her power suit and power point in favor of combat boots and cat glasses, Loolwa now offers bold songwriting as the catalyst for deep and heart-centered conversation.
Guitarist Sean Sebastian is a professional musician, as well as an audio engineer, film maker, founder of Off the Wall Artists Collective, and owner of Bard Rock Studios. Drummer Robbie Morsehead has been a professional musician for decades, touring nationally, recording numerous albums, and playing at prestigious venues including Seattle Sounders and Microsoft.
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Loolwa moved to Seattle in 2014, to be part of the Sephardic community. Within ten minutes of attending one of the two Sephardic synagogues, however, she was deeply offended by the sexism she witnessed – leading her to walk out. “What now?” she thought. Months later, close to the High Holy Days, Loolwa went to an open mic at Columbia City Theater and announced that since the Sephardic synagogues didn’t want her praying audibly, because she was a woman, she was bringing the prayers to that club. She then belted out the Iraqi selihoth. The crowd suddenly hushed, to the point that you could hear the proverbial pin drop, despite the audience typically talking through open mic performances. “Ah,” Loolwa thought, “I’m onto something.”
Meanwhile, after realizing that synagogue life in Seattle was a total bust for her, Loolwa began writing songs that expressed her struggles with Jewish family and community – combining her punk rock angst and original lyrics with the sacred Iraqi Jewish music she grew up singing. She effectively created a mobile synagogue of sorts, a vehicle for expressing her soul. And so, following two decades as a Jewish multicultural educator, through which Loolwa had passed down global Jewish heritage as it had been passed down for millennia, she began putting her own unique stamp on it.
What’s with the PJs?
After fleeing from Iraq as refugees in 1950, Loolwa’s family settled just outside Tel Aviv, Israel, in a town called Ramat Gan, which was almost entirely comprised of Iraqi Jewish refugees, for decades. Iraqi Jews historically have a reputation for immediately stripping out of their work clothes and lounging around in their pajamas, wherever possible. For this reason, when people asked Loolwa where she was living, and she answered Ramat Gan, they invariably replied, “Ah, Iraqim bepajamama (Iraqis in pajamas).” She thought it was hilarious. Not only that, but since Loolwa works from home, she can be found in her mismatched pajamas and fuzzy pink slippers, with her Jewfro hair sticking out in seven directions, at all hours of the day – thereby carrying on her ancestral tradition.