While away this past week I finally caught the rockumentary about one of the only metal bands in Baghdad and their struggle with following their dream. I kept seeing reviews and positive comments about Heavy Metal In Baghdad, a documentary about a band playing forbidden music in a war-zone also know as Iraq. Trust me, this was something I am glad I watched and any fan of music should check this out as it will make viewers realize how lucky you have it here in the USA.
The program surrounded the band Acrassicauda (Latin for “Black Scorpion”) and followed them through their struggle to do what they loved to do, play metal. Inspired by bands from the United States such as Metallica and Slipknot they attempted to start their own band in 2001. The band was only able to play three shows before the war in Iraq started and soon thereafter the band faced accusations of being devil worshipers and at times had to live their lives in secrecy to save their lives.
During the three years this documentary was filmed bans were created by the clerical council forcing the band and fans to cut their hair, not wear Western attire (American clothing), and end “music-filled parties and all kinds of singing”; basically the band was forced to quit or deal with consequences. Insurgents and religious fundamentalists would not hesitate to take their lives if the band or fans were seen in public and the documentary clearly shows the efforts made by the band to risk their lives and also live their dream. Through power cuts to stop the band from playing to avoiding death daily, this was a first hand look at the struggle they faced. Just hearing them talk about the war and the attempts of others stopping them showed how determined they were to continue.
Weeks would go by at times before vocalist/guitarist Faisal Talal, guitarist Tony Aziz, bassist Firas Al-Lateef and drummer Marwan Reyad would even get to see one another let alone practice. Constant threats and even a missile hitting their practice space did not hinder Acrassicauda who claimed to be the only Iraqi metal band in existence.
The documentary really sucked me in as directors/journalists Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi traveled to Iraq to find the band and interview them while in turn have their own close calls with local militants. Upon arriving to Iraq at one time the journals were told to expect to be shot at.
The journalists take their dangerous surroundings in stride with most of the time being held in a hotel just outside the war areas for safety. When they travel they are accompanied by armed guards and wear bulletproof vests. While filming gun shots and bombing can be seen and heard in the background during the active war. Their real-time reporting only made Heavy Metal In Baghdad that much more interesting.
Eventually the band flees to another country becoming refugees to save their own lives. The difficult choice was a smart choice for them. Eventually the band meets up with the journalists once things calmed down a bit and candidly talked about the chaos they lived in. With everything going on they did not give up their dream but rather put it on hold.
The band, once settled, was able to play a live show in one of the countries they fled to and I must say the people who showed up really showed their love to the band after a few songs into the show. All the hell this band went through was rewarded by cheers and applause by others who share the same common love for a said forbidden genre of music.
You would think that the band has a happy ending and plays sold out shows at metal clubs and recorded a platinum selling CD. The happy ending at the end of the documentary was the band saving their lives and continually fighting for what they wanted to do. At the end they were in small living quarters and had sold their equipment just to pay for rent. Since they were refugees it was difficult for some of the band to acquire jobs. Not what I expected to see but it made sense.
With war going on during the filming of this documentary I could only think of how easy I have it living in the United States. The interviews of the band showed how hard it is for them to be a metal band in Iraq and even harder to be a refugee. Their love for metal was more of a secret as they did not want to risk their families or their own lives. It was truly sad to see their expression cut by others.
In the United States I can wear what ever I want, play any music I choose, and roam my streets without worrying about being executed or caught in crossfire of a seemingly never ending war. I am lucky that I do not have to flee my country to save my own life for my beliefs and do not have to sell my own belongings just to pay a month of rent because I am a refugee. Sometimes I forget how good I really have it here. The members of Acrassicauda did not have this luxury by any means.
I did learn after viewing the program via the movie’s website that the band was eventually relocated to New Jersey of all places. Looks like the band finally got that happy ending they deserved.
Here is a blog from the band dated 02/09/09:
Friends, fans and family… as many of you heard lately we made it to the States, all four of us.
After 8 years of waiting and struggling it feels good now that we all made it and we’ve got high hopes for the future that maybe after all what we’ve been through it’s time to become 4 musicians instead of 4 refugees and finally to stand on stage steps away from everybody that helped us and supported us and believed in the band and its quest.
We’re finished being in purgatory not knowing what’s next, tormented by the bad thoughts of not being able to finish what we started 8 years ago. We were so afraid to let our dream go, so afraid to let it slip away and get sucked in to the bureaucratic black hole by the people that tell you what to do and what not to do, but I guess we were blessed cuz we had you on our side. Each and every one of you brothers, sisters, wives and husbands, moms and dads, friends and our idols whoever that might be stay true to who you are, you are the reason that we wanted this dream to come true even when it felt impossible cuz we felt that every one of you guys wanted it just like us (or maybe more).
From the bottom of our hearts, that pump every bit of iron and Metal into our veins, we salute you no matter who you are… Arabic, American, German, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Indian, Pakistani, Norwegian, Danish and many more. I have seen many people from all over the globe getting under the flag of metal and music in general and becoming one. We just had an idea, no more, but you made it happen, you are the true inspiration. Many times we sat and read your emails and comments and many times I saw some of the guys in Acrassicauda getting tears and space out for many minutes looking at your emails.
Now that we all sit and think about our future as a band we know that every thing that we had been through in the past years of our lives was totally worth it. We set out goal and now we know what is worth living for and what is worth to dying for.
Here’s the trailer to the documentary now available on DVD: