October 30, 2007 / 12:29 PM / 12 years ago

Band on the run - Iraqi rockers seek new home

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - They are a band on the run.

Acrassicauda, which claims to be Baghdad’s only heavy metal band, fled to Syria and on to Turkey to avoid the violence in Iraq and specific death threats from insurgent groups, but now the four young musicians may be forced to return home.

"We’re stuck, we’re lost," Marwan, at 23 the youngest member of the group, said by telephone from Istanbul where he is staying with bandmates Firas, Tony and Faisal.

He said the musicians were not welcome in Turkey, particularly since fighting has escalated between Turkish forces and Kurdish rebels near the Iraqi border, but they could not find another country willing to take them in as refugees.

"If we ever made it back to Baghdad, and we ever made it back to our families, where would we rehearse?" said Marwan, frustrated at talking about politics and personal troubles rather than tours and tracklists.

"If we go back to Baghdad now, we’ll just stay at home as prisoners, not even go out to buy and packet of cigarettes.

"I live in a Shi’ite neighbourhood and I’m a Sunni," he added, referring to sectarian divisions behind much of the killing. "There are gangs who deny us the simple choice of free will."

Acrassicauda, which refers to the Latin for a type of scorpion, was formed in 2001, but played only three concerts before the U.S. invasion of 2003. They played three more, facing heavy security, tiny crowds, power shortages and the odd explosion nearby.

Their story is the subject of a documentary "Heavy Metal in Baghdad", made by Canadians Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi.

They are spearheading a campaign to find the band a new home and get money to them. The Web site www.heavymetalinbaghdad.com has a link through which donations can be made.



"PLAYING FOR SATAN"

The film covers a concert in 2005 in a Baghdad hotel, and portrays the violence in 2005 and 2006 during which the band’s rehearsel space was destroyed by a bomb.

"We got a threat saying we are Americanised and we are playing music for Satan, blah blah blah, and we’re going to get you one by one," Marwan says in the film, which premiered at the Toronto film festival and is due to be released in early 2008.

Inspired by the likes of Metallica, Slipknot and Slayer, the head-banging, drum-crashing Acrassicauda started out writing and rehearsing in a basement in Baghdad in 2001.

Bass guitarist Firas recalled how playing heavy metal under Saddam Hussein was not straightforward.

When they informed the authorities that they planned to stage a concert, they were told they had to include a song about the president in their set, which they duly did.

Called "The Youth of Iraq", the number included the lyrics: "Following our leader Saddam Hussein, We’ll make them fall, We’ll drive them insane!"

After the fall of Saddam, Firas expected life to improve, but added: "They took Ali Baba and left the 40 thieves...It sucks, dude."

According to Marwan, the band still dream of keeping their passion alive, although the experiences of the last four years have taken their toll. Describing the lyrics he has written in recent months, he said:

"There is a lot of weird stuff that is so dark and gets kind of miserable, full of rage, anger and different from the stuff I used to write back in Baghdad. I grew 20 years older in the last two years."



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