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Heavy Metal in Baghdad 

Heavy Metal in Baghdad

Heavy Metal in Baghdad

Posted: Tuesday, 2nd December 2008

Following the struggles of Iraq’s one and only metal band, Acrassicauda, this rock doc both celebrates the liberating power of rock music and tells its own story about the nightmare of daily life in the war torn city.

The four twenty something band members met up in high school, where a guitar teacher got them in touch with playing western music. Marwan Ryad grew up watching Elvis and Buddy Rich and wanted to be a drummer as a way of channelling his anger. He and Faisal Talal, lead singer, learned their English from computer games, bootleg Metallica and Slipknot albums and US TV shows.

Their insights into the situation are littered with “dude” and “awesome”, but over the five years of filming, they grow up fast, and their perspective on what is happening around them is often thoughtful and humorous as well as defiant. Firas al Lateef, bass guitar, is married with a small child and denies that the violence is sectarian. He is Sunni with a Shia wife, but he says there is no jihad, just lawless chaos. The band try to “stay away from the politics”, but the very act of making this music is an act of defiance. “You feel like you’ve been caged, like there’s chains all around you and we want, just for two hours, to free ourselves from that chain.”

But their intermittent career involves only a few live performances. Under Saddam it was no easy thing to be a metal-head. Head-banging, sporting a goatee beard, tattoos, all branded you as a devil worshipper and could get you thrown into jail or worse. The film shows them being forced to sing a song for Saddam, as one of them says “the tune wasn’t shit, but the lyrics…?”. We later see them thrown off stage when their fans begin head-banging.

From Saddam’s overthrow to the rise of the insurgency in 2006, we follow their attempts to to carry on with their music as the city descends further into murder and mayhem. Their rehearsal room is bombed, friends die, and they dodge curfews, car bombs and electricity cuts in an effort to bring music to Baghdad’s music hungry youth.

As over 2 million Iraqis flee the country, the band spend their savings getting to Damascus only to realise that life in exile means poverty, homesickness and continued repression. The heavy metal refugees manage one concert, but eventually sell their instruments to pay the rent. The original documentary is a moving tribute to these young men who just wanted to make their music. But their story doesn’t end there.

With a postscript by Alan Yentob, and an update on the band’s current situation, this is Imagine’s own 50’ of the documentary the New York Times said “electrifies its genre and redefines head-banging as an act of hard core courage”.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad
Tuesday 2nd December, BBC1, 10.35pm

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