19 March 2006

Iraqi pop band "Unknown to No One" reunited

Azad-Hye, Dubai, 20 March 2006: Our website was one of the first to write about this pioneering Iraqi pop group. Originally the band was formed in 2000 during the last years of the rule of Saddam Hussein. The five boys of the group: Nadeem Hamid, Art Haroutounian, Shant Gharabedian, Hassan Ali and Diyar Dulay came together and began “producing” English pop songs in Baghdad. The band was called “Unknown to No One”.

The group had a mixed religious and ethnical background: Nadeem and Hassan are Shiite Muslims, Diyar is a Kurdish Sunni, Art and Shant are Armenians. They somehow represent the diversity of Iraq. "We are all brothers here," says Art Haroutounian, who writes the band's songs. "There is no racism. No civil war". The band was originally formed by Art Haroutounian and Shant Gharabedian. They advertised for vocalists and recruited the other three into the band.

During the post-war era they used to compose music on a keyboard, which they left in the trunk of their Volkswagen Passat. The vehicle was also their rehearsal stage, where they used to sing, especially when there was no one from the secret police following their actions. Promoting an English-singing band under such a regime was a risky thing. The group could not get any of their songs to air on Iraqi radio unless they sang for the Big Brother. So Art Haroutounian wrote a piece praising Saddam on his birthday. The song was aired for many times on the “Voice of Youth” radio program, but their original hit piece was aired only once.

During 2003 and immediately after the invasion of Iraq by the coalition forces, the band was featured on many TV news programs and achieved some kind of stardom. A British talent searcher called Peter Whitehead promised to promote their music, but he failed to secure visa for the group to travel to England. The boys experienced bitter disappointment.

In December 2003 one of the original members of the group Akhlad Raof (who was replaced for a while with Diyar Dulay), wrote to Azad-Hye: "Hi ... I am from the Iraqi boy band called "Unknown to No One" and I was so happy when I saw the report about my band in your website. Actually, as you know, it is so hard for Iraqis to travel outside. First of all let me tell you that Peter Whitehead (the British talent searcher who was interested to introduce us to the World) didn't come to Iraq, because he thought it will be better if the Band goes to London and I think that it is a good idea too, but we faced some problems in issuing the passports, because as you know, we don't have a proper Government now and there wasn't any side who had the real authority to issue passports for us. The Americans decided to make travel documents to those who wanted to travel outside Iraq. We made these travel documents, but we discovered that there is another problem: taking the visas to London. Mr. Whitehead is working hard to bring the band there and he wrote a message to Toni Blair personally, telling him about what we are facing. Now we don't have anything to do (just to wait and wait). That is something hard for us. I think we still have problems in my country and it won't be solved till several years, but I hope there would be no delays in the progress path, because I want my country to be better and better".

In an interview with Wendell Steavenson of London daily “Guardian” in December 2003, Hassan Ali said "We don't have the will to carry on. With all this situation it is hard to concentrate on our music".

Realizing that their dreams were leading them nowhere, the group disbanded and every member went to pursue his own life.

In year 2006:
After three year, it seems that there is new hope for the group. In recent months they were reunited and managed to fulfill their old dream of performing their art in front of foreign audience. They are now in England thanks to the financial support of an American businessman called Larry Underwood, who is based in Paris and has been in contact with one of the members (Shant Gharabedian).

In an interview with "Money" magazine two years ago, Larry Underwood had said: "Everyone thinks we're crazy for coming to Iraq". Yet the 61-year-old calls Iraq the biggest opportunity for entrepreneurs for the next two decades. "Let the big companies have the big contracts," he had concluded. "I'll be happy to take the crumbs".

Larry Underwood thinks of making a success of the band. He has already spent some 500 thousand US dollars for the recording and other expenses. Similar sum is needed for the launching of the record. He is working hard to secure visa to the United States for the five boys.

Farnaz Fassihi, the Middle East Correspondent of the "Wall Street Journal", who covered the Iraqi war for the last three years, has written the following story of the reunion of the band:
Iraq Street Boys: Five friends from Baghdad reunite band
12 December 2005

Old article of Azad-Hye about the group:

Article by Wendell Steavenson in the “Guardian”:
14 December 2003

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