Iraqi rockers offer hope in harmony
December 27, 2007
NEARLY a decade after forming what is probably Iraq's first rock band, the five-member UTN1 (Unknown to No One) have launched their first Arabic single and are determined to conquer the world.
"It was amazing. We were treated like celebrities," says UTN1 drummer Shant of the launch earlier this month in Lebanon of their CD Jamila, or beautiful. "I am very blessed because this is the result of three years of waiting and working hard, with lots of ups and downs."
The single carries four versions of Jamila, which hit the airwaves three weeks ago, as well as their first song in English, While We Can, which was released earlier this year.
"With While We Can we wanted to tell the Iraqi people and the world that we, as youths, can make a difference," says Art, the keyboard player, who along with Shant created the band in Baghdad in 1999. "We have lived through a lot of bad situations in Iraq. Destiny was not on our side."
His family, like the families of the rest of his band members, still live in violence-plagued Iraq.
He hopes the young fans who feted them at the launch in a Beirut music and book shop will be inspired by their success and not lose hope despite the crises gripping the Middle East: "Young people should change things by themselves, they should not wait for circumstances to be suitable."
Art and Shant dreamed up the band in Baghdad before the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime in the US-led invasion of 2003, when they teamed up to write Western-style pop music.
They were soon joined by vocalists Nadeem and Akhlad, and guitarist Hassan.
According to their website, the first song they wrote was played only once on a radio station run by Saddam's son Uday, a man known for his brutality who was killed along with his brother Qusay after the invasion.
The Iraqi rockers, who are in their 20s, moved to Britain after the invasion to finetune their music knowledge. The band first landed in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 to record video clips just as Israel and Shia guerillas from Hezbollah were locked in a deadly war that lasted 34days. But the war failed to dent their spirit.
"We have seen worse than that in Iraq," Shant says, adding that he was saddened by the chronic political and confessional tensions gripping Lebanon. "I urge the Lebanese to look at what happened in Iraq and learn from those lessons. Please be careful."
The band members, who include Christian and Muslim Iraqis, hope they can be an example of harmony for their compatriots in Iraq, where sectarian strife raged after the fall of Saddam. They say they also want to spread a message of peace to the Western and Arab worlds.
"Through our songs, we want to show to the Western world that the Iraqi people are not terrorists. The Iraqis are people who are educated, who can sing exactly like it is done in the West," Shant says.
"We want to tell the world that our songs carry a message of peace and are meant to say that the Iraqis can sing, laugh, have a human sense and can do crazy things like everyone else. We are from different ethnic backgrounds and religions, but we are first Iraqis, brothers and friends, and this is our message to the Iraqi people."
UTN1 are expected to release a 12-track album of songs in English in mid-2008: they have recorded it in Lebanon and hope to sell it in Europe and the US.
At the recent opening, they were feted by journalists and fans when they performed for about 100 people. "It was great. The fans were shouting. It was the first time we saw the result of our efforts live," Art says.
"We will not allow any circumstance to stop us from developing our dreams."
All I wanna do when I wake up in the morning is see your eyes
Never thought that a woman like you could care for me
Not quite a year since you went away
Now she's gone and I have to say
Meet you all the way
In an unoccupied FREE Iraq...................(words my own)