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Rudaw

Interview

Kirkuk heavy metal band challenges cultural stereotypes

By A.C. Robinson 22/1/2019
Iraq's first heavy metal band, Dark Phantom. Photo: Dark Phantom/Facebook
Iraq's first heavy metal band, Dark Phantom. Photo: Dark Phantom/Facebook
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Heavy metal and hard rock music found its origins in the late 1960s when guitarist and songwriter Tony Iommi along with singer and rock legend Ozzy Osbourne formed the Polka Tulk Blues Band in Birmingham, England, which was then considered a blues-rock band.

Later, undergoing a reformation and changing their name to Black Sabbath, a new genre of music was born with the band's tuned-down guitars that incorporated horror-inspired lyrics and occult themes. Although initially receiving negative criticism, Black Sabbath's first album, Paranoid, was a commercial success in Britain reaching number 8 on the UK Albums Chart.

The release of Paranoid sparked an international interest in the new music style with Rolling Stone Magazine stating that Black Sabbath "changed music forever" and referred to them as "the Beatles of heavy metal."

The new genre of music quickly spread worldwide and became famous across the West with other influential bands forming across generations such as Metallica, Guns N' Roses, Megadeth, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix.

To those unfamiliar with the genre, heavy metal is often considered to be sacrilegious and unpopular in the Middle East where Islam is the predominate religion.

The ears of one man, Murad Jaymz from Kirkuk, were perked. He was inspired to learn how to play guitar and eventually formed Iraq's first heavy metal band, Dark Phantom.

Jaymz spoke to Rudaw about his band's music and the message they hope to spread across the world.


Rudaw: Hard rock and heavy metal is not common in the Middle East. How did you first become interested in this genre of music?

Murad Jaymz: I used to listen to all types of music and then in Kirkuk in 2003, I met some American soldiers who were listening to rock and heavy metal and really liked it. They gave me a Metallica CD as a gift, which was my first exposure to metal. In 2007, my

 

  Death was a consequence for anyone being caught playing music  

cousin, who is one of our band members, and myself were inspired to start learning how to play the guitar.

How did the creation of Dark Phantom come about?

We [my cousin and I] were thinking of making a heavy metal band in Iraq. We found some band members with similar music styles in university and on social media to form the band.

The intention was to reach our dreams in Western music and to express the inferior circumstances of Kirkuk, and explain it to the universe. But things weren't able to progress due to the bad situation in Iraq and that lead to the postponement of forward progress and a period of hibernation, for our safety.

Why was it dangerous to play heavy metal music at that time?

Al Qaeda controlled the situation. Death was a consequence for anyone being caught playing music. But in 2008, the band started rehearsing again despite the dangers. We managed to compose our first original song, although there was a decline in the band's musical direction.

Are there any venues to play concerts in Kirkuk?

No. We rehearse at one of the band member's home. In 2011, the band played their first concert in the city of Kirkuk. We played

 

  We still struggled for local and worldwide promotion  

cover songs in addition to some original songs. It was unforeseen, that under the same circumstances (volatile aggression, anti-metal music "laws", etc.) a crowd came to see them and news of event rocked the small city.

When did you record your first album?

We recorded our first EP in 2012 with the original band members. Some of the old members left the band and it had to be restructured. We still struggled for local and worldwide promotion, and were awaiting the day that our dreams would become a reality, through their faith and hope in humanity.

Did you hold concerts in other parts of Iraq?

After the band's reputation was spread in the area, exactly in 2013, we started getting invitations to hold live concerts in different cities and of course we accepted. We had three successful concerts in three different cities which was a great recovery and improvement for the band.

How did the rise of ISIS in the region in 2014 affect your band and music?

 

  In Kirkuk, there are not any places for playing metal   



Daesh [ISIS] attacked Kirkuk two times and we were very scared because we are musicians and we are playing a different form of music for Iraq. In Kirkuk, there are not any places for playing metal and most people there don't know what metal music is. They think it is Satan's work.

Did you continue to rehearse despite the dangers of ISIS?


Yes. Some of the old band members left because we weren't making money or for other reasons. We restructured, bringing a new lead singer from Sulaimani. We recorded our first single, "The Nation of the Dogs," and full album in 2016.

We received many labels from South America, Europe, China and Turkey. Many people liked our album. After recording the album, we had many concerts in the Kurdistan Region.

How has your music been received in Kurdistan?

Erbil is much better than Kirkuk. Most of the people are open-minded. We have done several concerts in Erbil, Sulaimani and Duhok

 

  Now the band is planning to travel to Syria   

and played in the French Institute's music festival in Erbil last year. It was great to play in all of Kurdistan's cities.

Do you have any plans to play concerts outside of Iraq and Kurdistan?

Now the band is planning to travel to Syria to have a concert with a Syrian band in Latakia. This is a good step for us. Syria was attacked by ISIS just as we were in Iraq so we were in the same situation so it is a good step for us together. We are also hoping to tour Europe by the end of 2019.

Who are the other band members?

I'm the rhythm guitarist. My cousin, Rebin Hashim is the lead guitarist. Mahmood Qasim is the drummer. Sarmad Jalal is the bassist and Mir Shamal is the lead vocalist. We are a diverse band made up of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen.

What messages do you hope to share through your music?

 

  We are a diverse band made up of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen  



We are trying to explain through our music the Iraqi situation and Iraqi war, religion and policy corruption. That's what we are working on.

Do you have any special message for critics of heavy metal music?

Our music is just music. We are not worshipping Satan or attacking religion or any policies. We are just talking about the corruption in Iraq. I would like people to understand what we are doing and we are thankful for everyone who have come to our shows and supported us.
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