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Heavy metal band on the run in Jordan

One show was stopped by police at the last minute as critics say their music reflects a 'state of cultural ignorance in the Arab world'.

Members of the heavy metal band Dragon Rider practise for a performance in Amman.
Members of the heavy metal band Dragon Rider practise for a performance in Amman.

AMMAN // Raed Maqdadi expresses his anger, frustration, joy and optimism through heavy metal, the music he has loved since childhood. At the age of 10, Mr Maqdadi learnt to play the drums. By 12 he played the guitar and was performing with heavy metal bands. As he grew older, he no longer wanted to cover others band's songs, so two years ago he and a group of friends formed the band Dragon Rider.

But being in a heavy metal band in Jordan comes with risks, Mr Maqdadi said. In 1997, the Egyptian government labelled such groups as Satanic and arrested dozens of their members. Since then, panic has gripped Jordan too. Between 2002 and 2005, the handful of stores that sold heavy metal music closed down or changed their line of business, Mr Maqdadi said. "When people see something different, not stereotypical, they attack it. They see us with long hair, and they think that we worship the devil. Heavy metal has nothing to do with it," he said.

"The heavy metal scene is like the US in the 1970s when it was much criticised because it was something new, but at least then bands were still able to perform publicly." Nader al Natsheh, 27, a guitar player in Dragon Rider, said: "We do not worship the devil or sing about it nor about politics or religion, not even love. Our songs are all philosophy ? but people here judge the book by its cover."

Last April, Dragon Rider booked a theatre in Amman for a show. About 400 fans attended but just before the concert was to start, police arrived and asked the band and the audience to leave. "If we were not a heavy metal band, we may have been able to perform, said Omar Abu Dayyeh, the band's singer. "Until now, we are afraid to sell our music." Another band member, Ala'a Abu al Sabe', 23, who works in a book shop, said: "If we cut our hair, society will accept us, but not our music."

Despited the opposition, heavy metal in Jordan continues to attract teenagers. Maher Hinhin, a music instructor at Freddy for Music, a music school in western Amman, said: "When it comes to the younger age, teenagers want to learn how to play heavy metal." He has been teaching music and drums for the past 16 years, but Mr HinHin said the problem with heavy metal was that Jordanian teenagers blindly imitated extreme metal groups.

"You have teenagers creating bands and practise headbanging and stage diving, which can eventually hurt them. The young want powerful music. But there is no musical awareness. Those who join such bands should be aware that they are part of a conservative culture, and stay away from such practices," Mr Hinhin said. "I am not against heavy metal, but they should choose their music and words in a manner that is suitable for our culture."

Conservative critics says Jordanians who play heavy metal and other western music raise alarms about what they call a lost Arab identity. "Having youth turn to this colour of music, no matter what its objectives are, reflects a state of cultural ignorance in Jordan and the Arab world," said Abdul Rahman Nijem, a reporter who works for the cultural section of the daily Assabeel. "They are following the western culture ? and it is a reflection of the state of cultural vacuum the Arab youth live in a nation whose culture and identity are lost. I do not see why they need to express themselves in this type of western music. Why can't they have their own cultural identity that is independent from the West," he asked.

Kifah Fkhoury, the director of the National Conservatory of Amman, said: "We are not into this type of music. It is like other genres of music and it doesn't mean that it is attracting more fans compared to others like hip-hop, but people have misconceptions about heavy metal. It is aggressive and those who play it want to vent out, but it is still wrong to link them to certain groups." Those stereotypical linkages force most heavy metal bands in Jordan to rehearse privately, and they often run into roadblocks when they try to sell their music or run advertisements in university publications about their activities.

suhamaayeh@thenational.ae