Ilham’s musical talent began to seriously develop at his young age of twelve. He started, and still is, a guitarist at heart. His musical career formally started when he formed his first musical band (Twisters) in the sixties. They were the first band in Iraq, and probably the Arab world, that used "modern" instruments in playing Arabic music (Guitar, Drums, Bass &Piano). Ilham pioneered Arabic-world music crossover. He was the first to modernize traditional and folklore Arabic songs, giving a new wider appeal and new freshness, placing it squarely in the modern era. Although the Twisters created a new wave in Arabic music, the media criticized Ilham heavily for being an eccentric and for modifying the long maintained musical traditions. Furthermore, his family who enjoys a high social profile, where some of them held high governmental positions in the forties and fifties, were not against his musical style as such, but were against his involvement in music as a concept. Their concern was regarding their son, Ilham developing a socially inappropriate career.
A few years later, Ilham left Baghdad to England to study Architecture. The young student played with a group and performed at Al-Bayt Al-Baghdadi in London (Cafe Baghdad). Ilham attracted a special distinct audience including Paul McCartney, Donovan and George Fame alongside many Jazz musicians who enjoyed his unique performance. He probably was the first modern era Iraqi artist to cross the borders and reach out to a cosmopolitan audience.
When Ilham returned to Baghdad in 1967, he formed his well-known band (13 ½). This time, Ilham introduced Spanish guitar rhythm from Andalusia to the Iraqi folklore song, appealing to a newer, younger audience. He reached a peak in popularity throughout the 70s; he was Iraq’s most popular musician all during the 70s.
Due to many reasons, Ilham left Iraq in 1979 leaving behind his wealth, popularity and most unfortunate of all - his music. He traveled to different countries pursuing a new career. But his passion for music remained and every now and then he would perform a concert somewhere in the world. Recordings of these concerts made their way to Baghdad to the delight of his fans, keeping them in touch with his newer work.
Then in 1990 Ilham returned to Baghdad and decided to restart his musical career. He formed Firqat Ilham (Ilham's Band). This was a combination between west and east side of music presenting different tunes from his music combined with world music. Ilham's outstanding talent is recognized throughout the world. Most of his releases are from his own musical compositions such as Khuttar, Chathab, Maasaal, Baghdad,Ana Blayak and others. He also works on his musical arrangements in having his own mixture of beats and instruments that joins Arabic music with international tunes.
lham also presented many songs written by famous Arabic poets such as Nizar Qabbani, Bedr Shakir Al-Sayab, Ilyya Abu Maadhi, Abul Qasim Al-Shabi and Abdel Wahab Al-Bayati. Lately, Ilham got the platinum award from virgin records (EMI music) as his album (Ilham Al Madfai) was the bestselling album in the Middle East.
There is an element of permanence and change in Ilham's songs ... and there is a story behind each and every one of his songs. Ilham has played a significant and major role in the development of Arabic rich musical heritage through his unique continuous new arrangements of classic Arabic songs. He has conserved the Arabic folklore music for present and future generations. Moreover, his songs will not only continue to live among the many Iraqis at home and the many expatriates, but now for all music lovers worldwide. Ilham's unique songs and musical arrangements are gems and the time is indeed ripe to discover them.