Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Iraqi musicians: murder and revival


24 November 2008

Musicians take up their instruments again

50 musicians have been killed in 2004-2006 in Iraq, according to a national artists union. But as the civil war appears to be fading, so does the pressure on musicians and the ban on music by the Mehdi Army's and Al-Qaeda's militiamen, reported Sammy Ketz from Agence France Presse (AFP) on 17 November 2008.

In early 2006, the saxophone player Ayad Hair was was killed at his home in Sadr City by militiamen — in front of his children — and afterwards his corpse was burned. On the same day, his fellow musician, the tambourine player Ali Mohammad was killed. His corpse was found more than two years later. The militiamen explained to the musicians’ families that this will be the fate of all those “who transgress holy law.”

A 37-year-old music shop owner in the Fadel neighbourhood of central Baghdad, Mohammad Rashid, had his shop destroyed by a group of masked jihadists in March 2006, at a time when the Sunni extremist movement Al-Qaeda took over control of the neighbourhood — an area which was once famous for its traditional music groups, bands of drummers, trumpet and timpani players that would accompany a groom to his bride, cater to circumcision celebrations, and herald major holidays.

Mohammad Rashid reopened his shop during 2008, and then told the story about his band and the fate of his fellow musicians to Sammy Ketz from Agence France Presse, AFP. The trumpets and drum covers on display still bear the jagged scrapes left by the vandals, Sammy Ketz described in his article.

2004-2006: 50 musicians killed
“What you are doing is forbidden, because music is the work of the devil. If you reopen your shop, you are dead,” Mohammad Rashid remembers the assailants telling him before he fled to Syria..

The AFP-article quoted the head of Iraq’s artists union, Hussein al-Basri, as saying that in 2003, on the eve of the US-led invasion, there were more than 300 traditional bands playing in Baghdad, but most of them stopped playing in 2004, and since then around 50 musicians have been killed, and the number of active bands has dwindled to around 100.

Instruments destroyed
But even though Iraqi musicians are slowly returning to the streets of Baghdad, performing music is still a dangerous profession in some parts of Iraq.

In March 2008 an orchestral group that had travelled to the southern town of Aziziyya was reportedly attacked by the Mehdi Army, which destroyed their instruments.

In the Allawi district of central Baghdad, 27-year-old Ahmed Omar Magid, whose father played in the royal symphony orchestra in 1954, suffered the same treatment at the hands of Sunni fighters.

Sammy Ketz reported that today Ahmed Omar Magid and his bands perform at approximately a dozen weddings a month.

Ali Kassem, a 40-year-old musician who used to play trumpet in a military band, told the AFP-reporter that the miliamen would organise fake weddings in order to ambush the musicians when they arrived there to perform. He said that he had friends who were killed that way.

“And yet I am sure that nothing in the Koran forbids our art,” he told Sammy Ketz.

First metal concert in five years
In October 2008, Iraq’s first metal concert in five years was held in Baghdad, reported journalist Charles Levinson in the American newspaper USA Today, after he had experienced around 250 Iraqi fans of heavy metal music come out of hiding to listen to two heavy metal orchestras.

One of the two bands that performed at the concert was Brutal Impact. The 21-year-old lead singer of the band, Mani, told USA Today’s reporter in an interview after the show: “When religious extremists controlled Baghdad’s neighbourhoods, being a member of heavy metal’s unique subculture could amount to a death sentence. If I wore a T-shirt like this one,” Mani said, pointing to a logo of a bleeding skull, “they'd have killed me.”

The second band that performed that night was Dog Faced Corpse.

Click on map to read more about Iraq on freemuse.org
Between 2004 and 2006, around 50 musicians in Iraq have been killed, according to the head of the country’s artists union


AFP – 11 November 2008:
'Music returns to Baghdad as vice squad enforcers retreat'

Daily Star / AFP – 17 November 2008:
‘Music returns to streets of Baghdad as both Sunni and Shiite fundamentalists recede’

USA Today – 30 October 2008:
'Nothing else matters: Iraqi heavy metal returns'

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