Iraqi Heavy Metal Band United at Last
The band members couldn't have been happier—or more amazed—at their newfound safety and freedom than if they were playing a sold out arena show with their idols, the metal band Metallica.
The International Rescue Committee has been working to resettle the members of Acrassicauda since last summer. Born out of a basement rehearsal space in Baghdad, Acrassicauda is one of the few Iraqi heavy metal bands in existence. Inspired by western bands like Metallica and Slayer, they began writing and playing heavy metal in 2001. Their dream of performing live in Iraq soon became the struggle of their lives.
Heavy metal wasn't tolerated during the Sadaam years, so the band largely practiced and played in secret - performing only three shows before the war started. After Saddam was toppled, they were able to take their music public for the first time and real freedom seemed possible. But that hope was quickly dashed as Iraq fell into a violent insurgency. Anyone associated with western culture was soon in jeopardy. It became increasingly difficult to practice — much less get through a show — without risking their safety. They hid their instruments in plastic bags to avoid being apprehended on the street. As violence escalated and conditions worsened in Baghdad, the band members began receiving death threats from insurgents and religious fundamentalists. When the situation became untenable, the band fled Iraq for Syria and, later, Istanbul, Turkey, where they lived as war refugees.
The IRC learned about Acrassicauda last summer from an IRC supporter and from VICE, an international media conglomerate and the band's longtime champion. At that time, the band members had each been given refugee status by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, but their individual cases had been allocated to different resettlement agencies in different U.S. cities. While not a traditional family, the members of Acrassicauda were everything to each other. They said the prospect of breaking up after all they had endured was too much to bear.
The IRC stepped in and worked with VICE to keep Acrassicauda together. As the band members arrived in the United States, we began resettling them in Elizabeth, New Jersey, just a short hop from Manhattan. Bassist Firas was accompanied by his wife, who is now learning English, and their child, who is thriving in daycare. In a difficult economy, the IRC is helping the band to find jobs and adjust to life in America as they pursue their longtime dream: to live and play in peace.
Acrassicauda's is the untold story of the hopes and dreams of an entire generation of young Iraqis, young lives that have been distorted and displaced by years of violent conflict in their homeland. The IRC has been helping people like the Acrassicauda musicians for 75 years. When the IRC was founded in 1933, there were no refugee programs or government agencies working to ensure the safety of uprooted people. After France fell to the Nazis in 1940, the IRC spirited nearly 2,000 refugees---many of them artists, and political and academic leaders who had suffered under Hitler---to freedom. Seventy-five years on, while the number and origins of the people the IRC helps have changed, our mission hasn't.
"We haven't won any awards, but we have won our freedom," Marwan says.To Learn More
Listen to Acrassicauda's music and read more about how the IRC helped bring the band back together in this New York Times story.
Check back for exclusive updates on the band on the IRC's Voices from the Field blog
Take action now to help Iraqi refugees