Zuhal is an Iraqi pianist and activist. She founded the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq at the age of 17, creating a reconciling musical experience for mostly self-taught musicians of diverse ethnicities and religions from across the country, overcoming deep-rooted decades of conflict. The orchestra ran 5 successful years, performing in Iraq and Europe, and has touched the lives of hundreds of musicians, who have taken what they have learned and started their own musical projects in aid of their communities.
Zuhal’s motivation has been her own experience as an orphaned child during the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003, and the accompanying brain-drain that led to the fleeing of music tutors and the destruction of infrastructure – including music institutions. Zuhal continued her music education by choosing to learn over the internet and share her resources with her peers. Zuhal continued to play and advocate the power of music as a teenager in Baghdad in spite of the upsurgence of religious extremists who threatened death to musicians and artists. She then raised awareness of Iraqi youth internationally by performing concerts for UNESCO and UNICEF and public speaking since the age of 15.
Zuhal’s activism and musicianship has received global media coverage and recognition. The most notable of which is being named UNESCO’s Young Artist for Intercultural Dialogue; British Council’a Global Changemaker; and Euphrates Institute Visionary of the Year 2015. In late 2016, and in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, she established the Key of RefuG Initiative, using a bespoke music-based programme to tackle PTSD symptoms in children aged 4 to 18 years old. The programme’s first trial took place in the Iraqi displaced and Syrian refugee camps in the Kurdish Region of Iraq.