HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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Metal in the Middle East

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Heavy metal became a prominent genre of modern music in the Middle East in the late 80’s and early 90’s, shortly after becoming popular in western countries. Oppressive governments and offended conservatives quickly quenched the movement, claiming that fans and bands were promoting ideals of Satanism through their angsty lyrics, aggressive guitar riffs, and strange garb.

More recently, metal has acted as a unifying media for the huge youth demographic present in the Middle East. One band in particular, Orphaned Land, has provided common ground to help assuage the long-standing Israel-Palestine conflict. Formed in 1991 in Israel, the band blends sound elements of doom metal, Middle Eastern folk, and Arabic traditions into a subgenre described as “Oriental metal”. Orphaned Land incorporates lyrics that many cultures can relate to by directly quoting the holy books of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. They sing in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, and have collaborated with numerous Arab musicians over the years, making a point to illustrate their wholehearted lack of cultural prejudice. Live performances are filled with fans from nations all over the Middle East. These events might be one of the few opportunities for such a peaceful aggregation of cultures.

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Orphaned Land

In 2001, a brave group of Iraqi friends founded the metal band Acrassicauda (Latin for “Black Scorpion”) in Baghdad. At the time, the bassist owned a computer store, and the drummer was an English teacher. The group was quickly discovered by fundamentalist haters who destroyed their jam spot with a missile. Eventually in 2006, the band was forced to flee Iraq. They spent several years hiding in Syria and Turkey, and eventually landed themselves in the United States, where they are still trying to make a name for themselves. Success in the States has been more difficult than they imagined, as there is no shortage of metal bands here. Unfortunately they now work several part-time jobs and barely have time to practice. In 2007 Spike Jonze produced a documentary titled Heavy Metal in Baghdad that tells their story in more detail.

ImageAcrassicauda

To me there is something incredibly honorable about a metal band who has actually lived through the hell on their lyric sheet. From the opening song Message From Baghdad off the debut album Only The Dead See The End Of The War:

Is it god’s will or just a lie?
People live and others die
Never had the chance and they never will
Forever doomed as I wonder why

And from The Unknown off the same album:

Creeping inside my veins
Pacifies me in extra doses of pain
I can’t contain it
Living your world and enduring your
Hate

When US bands project this type of message (and they always do), they come off as melodramatic and ungrateful. Acrassicauda on the other hand feels so strongly about these words, they risked their lives daily in Baghdad for the opportunity to preach them. They may not be professional musicians anymore in the United States, but they are still professional badasses in my eyes. Iraq on!

Sources:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2010/03/10/iraq-n-roll.html

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/Heavy-metal-unites-Jews-Muslims-across-Middle-East

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/03/an-unusual-heavy-metal-love-story.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cymbal_manufacturers

p.s. The wikipedia link above is interesting. Note how about half of the cymbal manufacturers in the world are Turkish. You may have heard of Zildjian.

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20 Comments

  1. Your post reminded me of this one artist I really like–Emmanuel Jal, a South Sudanese rapper and humanitarian who was a former child soldier, who raps in Arabic, English, Swahili, and other languages. He also has some really powerful lyrics about being a child soldier, and it also makes a lot of the content of some music in hip hop today seem so whiney in comparison, although of course we all have our own battles to fight. Music is such an inspiration and impactful on an individual level, and this post makes me want to explore to see how it impacts social movements.

  2. Kaitlyn Johnson says:

    This post was really interesting! I’ve been studying Arabic at Tech this past year and despite the numerous projects and lessons we’ve had on music, not once have we talked about metal in the Middle East. I think its fascinating to see how music effects the politics and societies all around the world. Arab music is insanely influential and important to Arab culture. I wish we had time to explore the topic more than just in a blog post and in our in-class discussion.

  3. chai164 says:

    I definitely agree with your closing statement. A lot of punk bands in the US sing about their anger and ‘problems’ but their lyrics don’t ever truly reflect real pain and frustration.

    Definitely going to give these bands a liste.

  4. mjuren3 says:

    I really liked your article; it was really original and interesting. Acrassicauda’s story is a powerful one; I hope they are able to make a comeback and eventually be able to return to their homeland to play their music without fear of persecution. I also agree with the author’s closing statement as well. I think that the root of this is how ignorant American youth are on average of anything that goes on outside of the context of their daily lives and internet activities (facebook, tumblr, pintrest, twitter, etc.). They aren’t aware or educated about the real problems going on in the world and therefore since they don’t have anything else to compare their “problems” to, they think that the issues they deal with are the worst things ever and come across as annoying and whiny.

  5. tnatoli3 says:

    Another band that is more popular here, but more critical of the US government instead of the Middle East, is System of a Down. Metal music has always been a controversial genre, with the Columbine shooter referencing Marilyn Manson in his motive. I am actually a big fan of the genre and had never heard of the bands you mentioned.

  6. kolson223 says:

    Very interesting read. As a fan of music in general I really found this blog entertaining and informative. Music can be very a very influential tool, so it is understandable that fundamentalists who are against the lyrics would go to such measures to get the to stop playing. Metal is an interesting genre that I think sometimes is misunderstood.

  7. I am so sad that I could not name a singer or a band from China who can bravely talk about our real pain. These people mentioned in the blog are so brave, and they are actually doing something huge with music. Moreover, this blog makes me to think about Plato’s Republic about how censorship should control art in order to maintain peace in a society. From a ruler’s point of view, these musicians are ruining the community with their voice, but from a outsider’s point of view, I think the ruler is ruining art and freedom with their power. Is freedom more important, or the tradition and peace more important?

  8. shaimsn says:

    Sad to see that artistic talent is persecuted in several nations in the Middle East if it doesn’t agree the government’s vision. Reminds me of Venezuela.

  9. kledbetter6 says:

    It was interesting to read about metal music specifically, because it’s not a genre I listen to often. The way you highlighted the different connotations of lyrics based on the band’s experiences was particularly effective. The same can be said of many genres in U.S. music, I think – the lyrics are often sweeping and dramatic, but they lack substance. Of course, as one of the previous posts said, everyone has their own problems, but the lyric “living your world and enduring your hate” seems far more meaningful when the “hate” is a stringent, oppressive government that drove them from their homeland, from everything they knew.

  10. sstephenson3 says:

    Being a fan of old school metal myself, I have to say that this article demonstrates the existence of counter cultures in current Islamic society. Overall, I believe that this is a very good thing, even though this band in particular was forced to flee the region. This is because the establishment of counter culture groups means that some, maybe not even a significant portion, but some Muslims in the region are starting to see problems with the direction of the Middle East and the rise of Islamic Extremist states. In all forms of societal change, this is how it begins, by which I mean the advent of a portion of the populace that sees inherent problems with government or society and seeks to speak out against them. In truth, small bands like this do more damage to the political Islamists than most actions we can take.

  11. marymsherman says:

    Interesting article. I’m very into music and love the almost universal draw to it. Music helps define a culture and often a generation. Just think of the Beatles, Michael Jackson, and the Rolling Stones. These are all defining artists of their time that help describe and unite different groups of people. It’s cool to hear about bands like this in the Middle East, even if they’re being persecuted and challenged. I’m always inspired by people who work through hardships to follow a passion.

  12. Thoroughly enjoyed this blog post. Like others, I have never heard that this type of music was even of interest. However, I have noticed the increase in electronic post-production enhancements (like auto-tone) just like the rest of the world. As for the government trying to suppress this type of music, in the end I don’t think it will work. Music styles evolve and change over time naturally, and from what I’ve seen, can not be controlled by outside influences (like government).

  13. akranc3 says:

    I would never have imagined that there would be metal in the Middle East. Not in a million years. But this post is amazing. It really opened my eyes to the effects of Westernization. And their lyrics, your opinion of them is so true. Having lived through what is on the paper, it gives them more swing in their performances.

  14. nathenj65 says:

    I really like this article you were able to find a different aspect in all of this that we had not talked about. A different way in which a newer generation can get their views heard by the ears of the public that they might have not been able to reach before. In history there are lots of examples in which a band was able to gather the adoration of a nation and that everything that they played people listened to. Music can be a very powerful thing and allows for a person or a group to be able to talk about what they want to to talk about through the act of singing and in listening to these songs the people can hear their message. The telling of black scorpions tale was very interesting. It makes sense that the extremist groups would be against a group like them but it surprises me a little that they would go so far as to launch a missile at them. This not only gives them a worse name but also shows that this band has found something that they don’t like and they are willing to attempt to kill them to stop it. I think that music is a true way to get your message out and hope to see more bands like this in the future step up and be heard.

  15. ojanus3 says:

    In my previous class on the Middle East we discussed Arabic artists who have gotten there beat stolen by American rap artists. I have been googling like crazy to try and remember who its was but have had no success yet. I’ll keep looking. On the other hand, this was an interesting blog post! I guess before this I never thought about how Middle Eastern musicians had to escape their country to be able to produce the music they wish.

  16. Thanks for the great post! I’m glad that there are bands out there trying to unite people through music. I think music is one of the most influential pieces of any culture and you don’t have to believe in the message to enjoy the sound, but when you do find a band or artist that has a message that’s important to you then it can be truly special. Hopefully it catches on.

  17. jbholleman says:

    A lot of people are talking about how western musicians seem very whiny and pitiful when compared to artists like Orphaned Land. While I agree that when you compare the two the western artists seem lame, I think this is not a fair comparison. The two groups come from completely different backgrounds and both groups can and do make genuinely good music. Comparing the two is like comparing apples to oranges. Both groups pull from their experiences and make music that relates to their own respective audiences. Just because one audience might look down on another for being silly or whiny doesn’t make the music any less relevant and relatable to the other audience. This doesn’t discount that there are a lot of generic, copy-cat, and poor artists in the west, but it is pointing out that each musician should be evaluated based on their artistic merits and their impact on their own respective audiences.

  18. nholdaway3 says:

    I like this post because it talks about something rarely discussed. When this class started I would have never thought I would be reading a discussion on metal in the Middle East or that they even had metal bands there. Anyway, I was amazed that the fundamentalist would use a missile to destroy a band. Could you imagine the backlash any other country would have if they tried that?

  19. drippykins says:

    I can’t believe I didn’t know about Middle Eastern Metal. And I call myself a metal fan… But why am I not surprised people lashed out in hate against them. The part you wrote, “The group was quickly discovered by fundamentalist haters who destroyed their jam spot with a missile.” blew my mind. I mean there are some bands I really don’t like in the US, but firing a missile at them? That’s just crazy. It’s a shame they were forced to flee their home and have now struggled with continuing their message in the US. Good on them for going through what they did for their love of music though.

  20. mnicholas6 says:

    Music can really have a major impact in uniting people. It’s important to realize that music is usually much more than entertaining. Each genre expands to a unique cultural movement. If it was “just music,” there wouldn’t be such violent backlash.

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