Jewish musician finds peace and healing after Oct. 7 through song
Singing her songJewish singer finds her voice

Jewish musician finds peace and healing after Oct. 7 through song

Loolwa Khazzoom knows something about the power of music and its ability to help heal.

Loolwa Khazzoom has used music to find her way through the forest. (Photo by Ailisa Newhall)
Loolwa Khazzoom has used music to find her way through the forest. (Photo by Ailisa Newhall)

Loolwa Khazzoom found her voice after Oct. 7.

The Seattle-based singer said Hamas’ terrorist attack in Israel left her physically and emotionally distraught.

“I was broken. I was a wreck. There was basically a call for Jewish genocide around the world,” she said.

What was happening on American college campuses, like her alma mater Columbia University in New York, only deepened those feelings.

“I was like, here comes the Holocaust. I was terrified,” Khazzoom remembered.

For nearly two months, the singer did almost nothing because she felt unable to function.

Then she attended a concert by the band Yemen Blues and was reminded of the power of music.

“It was primal and thrashing, and I was dancing and cracked open,” she said. “This paralysis was suddenly gone, and I started dancing every day and then this album just gushed out of me.”

The album, “’Til You Can Dance Again,” is a seven-song collection of music Khazzoom wrote in honor of the victims of Oct. 7. It captures the emotions the singer was feeling, including what she calls “radical Jewish joy.”

Hamas wants the Jewish community to be demoralized, she said, but radical Jewish joy is a defiant “f— you” to the terrorist organization.
The songs bridge the entire emotional spectrum she felt, from those early days when it was hard to leave her couch, to rage at the Red Cross and its inaction in helping the hostages and victims, to solidarity, to finally healing.

Khazzoom knows something about the power of music and its ability to help heal.

The daughter of an Iraqi Jewish refugee who left the country when he was 18, the singer said that her father absorbed the shame that was part of being a Sephardic Jew at the time. She grew up Orthodox and fell in love with the songs and prayers she heard her father sing.

As a youth, she begged her family to get her a piano, saving up $300, she said. They took her to a local music store for lessons and the instructor recommended she go to a conservatory for music. Still, a career in music for a woman sired by a Harvard Ph.D. wasn’t necessarily in the plans.

Khazzoom worked in various fields, subverting her desire to create music until 2010, when she was diagnosed with cancer. Rather than take the usual route of chemotherapy and surgery, she explored alternative healing.

“For nearly a decade, I forgot I was musician,” she said.

Then she got back into music and formed her band, Iraqi in Pajamas.

Iraqis in Pajamas log. (Artwork by Ruben Shimonov)

A funny thing happened when Khazzoom began singing again.

“Within a few months, the nodules started shrinking,” she said. “They had remained stable — they didn’t grow, they didn’t shrink. When I returned to music, they started to shrink. That was a huge ‘aha moment’ like, ‘This is who I am. This is my soul.’”

The music helps her deal with the trauma of Oct. 7, as well. A friend, she said, questioned her lyrics, uncomfortable with some of the anger expressed in them.

“He kind of freaked out, but a week later we were talking, and he was like, ‘How are you so peaceful and calm?’ And I was like, ‘Remember all those angry songs? I worked through it and found peace on the other side.’”

If Khazzoom’s life seems unusual to some, the makeup of her band and recording of “’Til You Can Dance Again” might seem just as uncommon. For others, it might seem modern, especially in a post-pandemic world. That’s because Iraqis in Pajamas is a virtual band with musicians not in the same physical space.

In fact, drummer Chris Belin, a Pittsburgh-based percussionist, is featured on the album but has never met Khazzoom in person.

Belin became a professional musician 25 years ago, owns a traveling drum school and does freelance recordings for artists around the globe. He has been featured on more than 100 recordings and performs approximately 150 shows a year.

With such a busy schedule, he’s used to recording tracks for artists who aren’t in the same studio he is when he lays down tracks.

“A lot of it is West Coast stuff, which is always interesting because of the time difference. I can record tracks at midnight, and it’s 9 p.m. their time,” he said.

Belin said he learned that Khazzoom was auditioning drummers and submitted an audition online.

“We talked about patterns, and she was writing the demo and was like, ‘Hey, can you write some drum parts?’ I was selected to do her first single and then she asked me to do the following ones,” he said.

The percussionist said that even when he isn’t in the same room as the musicians he’s backing he works to capture an artist’s vision. For Iraqis in Pajamas, that meant talking to Khazzoom about the lyrics and the background of each song.

“I try to understand what she’s saying and then try to convey that on my instrument,” he said.

For Khazzoom, her vision of healing extends from the personal to the global — from cancer to Oct. 7.

“Just stand in grace and stand in confidence,” she said. “There’s no deference anymore. It’s gone, the residue of millennia of trauma. There’s only so much you can do at any given time. I found the dark little corners in my psyche that were still there and now they are gone. They’re just gone.”

“’Til You Can Dance Again” will be released on March 23 and will be available on most musical streaming services. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at