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Iraqi Rock Band Afraid to Return Home


A Baghdad heavy metal band called Acrassicauda- Black Scorpion in English, became internationally known following a documentary made while they were performing in Iraq. But along with ethnicity and religious belief, being a heavy metal performer has also become a reason to be a target of the death squads in Baghdad. Now in Turkey, the group is still performing, as Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

The group is Iraq's hottest heavy metal band.

Playing to a packed concert at Istanbul's Kermanci's rock club, they are fast winning new fans. But this recent performance is a far a cry from their last gig in Baghdad. As band members Marwan Ryad, Firas al-Lateef and Faisal Talal explain.

"I remember the last concert, there was impacts and mortar rounds all around the place, concert, and the people were kind of scared," Talal said.

"There were really risking their lives, back then," al-Lateef added.

"They risked themselves just to get into the concert and they knew they could get killed, by any explosion on the street. Or either just because of wearing a heavy metal tee shirts," noted Talal.

Such experiences are the main driving force behind their music. Drummer Marwan Ryad writes many of the songs.

"You can figure that out from the names. Massacre, Message from Baghdad, Between the Ashes, The Underworld. It is our experience in life ... It is us. We have got a lot of sadness, a lot of drama. But still we got a lot of happy moments, that we enjoyed in our lives," he said.

But being in a heavy metal band in Baghdad, carries its own risks, as Ryad and his bass-guitarist Firas al-Lateef explain.

"You get killed for any reasons, but heavy metal is something also reason to get killed for," said Ryad.

"I tell you something, they have got a long long list of causes for death, and happen that rock music, is between them. The garage where we used to practice, we had a small piece of paper, stuck on the lock of the door, saying like, trying to be Americanized, playing this kind of music, and you need to stop doing that, otherwise ... and period," added al-Lateef.

Asked if the band took it seriously, al-Lateef replied, "We kept practicing and going there, until the practice place got blowed up. Like the whole building got bombed, so after that we decided to go to Syria."

But surviving in Syria, like for most Iraqi refugees was not easy, especially when their savings ran out. But thanks to publicity created by a Canadian documentary made about them in Baghdad, heavy metal lovers around the world, came to their aid.

"We got help from all our fans across the world , they set up a donation web site, called a "Pay Pal" account, Heavy metal in Baghdad, that is the name of the web site, so people started donating money. This how we collected the money, for the tickets, and here we are," Ryad said.

The concert at Kemanci, one Istanbul's most famous clubs, saw some of Turkey's top bands perform in support of their Iraqi rock brothers. For Fatih Tan from the band The Ancient it was not a difficult choice.

"For this support for the Iraqi group, we are playing tonight and they have a lot of hard times and we have to support them, because they are playing our music. Because music is an un-national thing, it is not important your nationality, your color, your religion, the music is music, and if there is dire position as musician we have to support them," Tan said.

And that support can also be found among all those attending the benefit concert.

"They were really good, they have soul, that is why it was really good," said one person attending the concert.

"They are playing heavy metal , that is why I like, that is it, they are playing heavy metal, they have the soul, they have the feeling they are good , we like them," said another.

Despite such support, unlike most rock bands, their dreams are not about record contracts, and stardom, but rather returning home. Although according to Firas al-Lateef, that will not be anytime soon.

VOA: "Do you plan to go home?"
Al-Lateef: "If things get better, better better, 100 percent better, then we would, we dream about going back home."
VOA: "But you do not see it in the near future?"
Al-Lateef: "To be honest, no."

For now, the priority of Acrassicauda is getting refugee status with the United Nations, along with the hope of a possible tour of Turkey.