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"Iraq's Band Stars"

Iraq's boy band stars
By Caroline Hawley
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

Giggling blondes squeal with delight as five tight-shirted men strut forward on the stage, beautifully turned out and moving towards the crowds in perfect unison.

UTN1 hope to perform in their native Iraq again
They are the Iraqi boy band UTN1 - short for "Unknown to No-one" - and they are in Geneva to perform at a peace festival, another step towards their dreams of international stardom.
It is a long way from the band's beginnings in Baghdad, in the final decade of Saddam Hussein's dictatorial rule.

Art and Shant - both Armenian Christians - founded the group in 1999. They were doing their military service at the time. Shant drove a tank. Now he drives the band's dance routines. Art made up lyrics as he marched.

They put adverts in the Iraqi press to find other band members.

Hassan, Akhlad and Nadeem are all Shia Muslims. Not that Iraq's religious and sectarian divisions matter to the band. They see themselves first and foremost as Iraqis - united by their love of music.

The band members were drawn to Western music while their country was under sanctions and Saddam Hussein was railing against Western imperialism. "We loved anything that came from the West," says Art. "We wanted to put action in our lives, to start something new, to break the routine."


Modelling themselves on Take That and the Backstreet Boys, they began composing and singing love songs in English. "Hey Girl" was an early favourite for their small fan base.

Meet the band
I first met the band in Baghdad in the scorching summer of 2003 - just a few weeks after the American-led invasion of Iraq.

The chaos and looting that followed the war was almost under control and the bombs, killings and kidnappings that were to tear the country apart had not yet begun.

But there was virtually no electricity in Baghdad. The boys were rehearsing in the back of a beaten-up Volkswagen Passat. And they had to be home every night for the American-imposed curfew at 11pm.

They were undaunted by the difficulties they faced. Bursting with enthusiasm, they shrugged off the threat of rising Islamic militancy and insisted - at the time - that they would not be silenced. "No-one is ready any more to give up his freedom," said Art.

But as the months wore on, Iraq became increasingly dangerous. A record store owned by Alan Enwiya, their first manager, was targeted. With few jobs to choose from, Enwiya found work as a translator for an American journalist. He was later kidnapped with her, and killed.

In 2004, I bumped into Nadeem again in Baghdad's Green Zone. He, too, was working for journalists then as the band members went their separate ways. "Remember me," he said, with a grin. "Unknown to No-one … We're still, it seems, unknown to everyone."


As the violence in Iraq escalated in 2004, the band members knew that being pop pioneers in a war zone was courting danger. "We needed to go to a safe place," says Art. In 2005, they moved to Jordan, waiting for visas to get to Britain, where they had been promised musical training in Birmingham.

In front of everyone, I sang "Do Ray Me Fah …" and everyone around us started laughing


One day, in the BBC Baghdad office, I received a phone call from Hassan.
He told me the British consulate was refusing to accept that they were a boy band and he needed my help to vouch for them - which I did, by sending them a tape of the television story we had done on them in 2003.

Shant, it turned out, also had to sing to consular staff to prove he was a musician. "In front of everyone, I sang 'Doh Reh Me Fah' and everyone around us started laughing."

Shant remembers arriving, wide-eyed, in Jordan for the first time. "We went to a shopping mall and I'd never been to a mall before. I saw Levis - I'd heard about them but never seen them."

Saddam Hussein's Iraq had been a paranoid, isolated place. There were no mobile phones, satellite television was banned and they - like other artists - had been forced to pay tribute to Saddam Hussein to have any hope of seeing their songs played on the radio.

Their specially-composed birthday ode - "Man of Glory" - embarrasses them now.

It goes: "Blessings to the man who brightens our days. Shining through the times, your light never ends ... You're the answer to all our hopes and dreams … Long Live Dear Saddam."

"You have to understand that we had no choice," says Nadeem, whose brother was jailed for several months under Saddam.


Today, they live in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, where they have artists' visas and access to state-of-the-art recording studios. They are free to sing what they want, and they now have two hit singles in Arabic. They are also safe from the violence that still plagues Iraq.

We wish one day to play a concert in the centre of Baghdad. We hope
But like so many Iraqis now living in exile, they worry about friends and family back home. They know that they are only guests in their host country. "I feel like an outsider wherever I go," says Nadeem.

And they dream - when it is safe - of returning.

"I miss Iraq," says Nadeem, most of whose friends are now scattered around the world. "I miss the food, the river, the smell of the streets after it rains. Despite everything, it's a great country. We've had the best and the worst of times there."

Hassan wants to return and build a music studio. "Once things are secure there, I'll go back. That's for sure," he says. "I have lots of lovely memories."

And Akhlad dreams of a big performance in front of a home crowd.

"We wish one day," he says, "to play a concert in the centre of Baghdad. We hope." - BBC "Caroline Hawley"


2002: from now on released in iraq only
2007: Jamila (Beautiful)
2010: Tit'thakareen (Do you remember)
2010:One Last Time

2006-"While We Can"
2007-"Jamila" ( Beautiful )
2008-"Loughat El Ayn" ( Language of the Eye )
2009-"Alaan Ahibik Akthar" (Now I love you more) a.k.a Bint Al Yawm (Today's Girl)
2009-U2's "One" cover
2010-"Tet'thakkareen" (Do you remember)



UTN1 an Iraqi band, sings (Arabic and English) (Alternative, pop, Rock)

Before 2003 War on Iraq
The brainchild of Art (Artin) and Shant, the group was originally formed in 1999, during the last years of Saddam Hussein's presidency. The duo dared to form a pop band where few had the courage to do so. They found the resources to produce their first demo song, with limited sound engineering devices. They eventually advertised for vocalists and recruited the other three members into the band - Hassan who answered the advertisement running on the local radio "Voice of Youth". Then Hassan's cousin Akhlad and a third friend Nadeem joined and formed UTN1or Unknown to No One .
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 beside band members' houses. During that time they also wrote and composed some original songs, and for them to get any airtime on the local radio, they had to compose a song for Saddam's Birthday. The song, having a nice catchy tune to it, was aired on the VOY FM more than twice every hour during the public celebratory times of his birthday.
The band released its first single entitled Fancy Girl, a love song. Alan Enwia, a music record store owner, offered to produce an album for them. Lacking any professional support, they independently managed to have eight songs recorded within a limited budget. The album found appeal with youth that started buying their debut album in display at the music record store. They managed to sell more than 2000 copies in 2002.
After the Iraqi war, Iraq's first ever Western boy band created big media interest and its members were interviewed with by the BBC, CNN and Associated Press. British producers offered to produce a demo album which they finished in 2002 entitled FROM NOW ON.

Post-2003 Invasion
After the war broke out, the boys lost momentum at home but soon were featured in Western news programs achieving some stardom. A British talent searcher, Peter Whitehead, promised to promote their music, but he failed to secure a visa for the group to travel to England. The boys experienced bitter disappointment. But with the old regime gone, new hope emerged for the pop group as people became more and more interested in Iraq's only boy band.
In 2004 they signed a contract with a production company that moved them to Jordan and then London where they recorded While We Can[1] their first international song, which talks about the situation in Iraq.
In 2006 they moved to Lebanon to start a career in the Middle East. They prepared and recorded their new English album in 2007 and they recorded the first Arabic hit song Jamila which it was releaesd on the 19th of December 2007[2]. It was one of the most popular songs in the Lebanese charts in late 2007. It had airplay throughout the Arab World.
In May 2008, the band released their third single (the 2nd one in Arabic) under the title Lughat Al-Ayn[3] which also reached number 1 on the Lebanese charts, and it was the door to get a sponsorship to record and finish their album that they worked on since 2006, the sponsor is an Arabic Channel called Alaan TV. They were interested on them because their target it is the Iraqi Audience and they saw that the UTN1 is a good example for an Iraqi youth group that can represent the Iraqi youth in the outside (Arabic and Western world)
Music videos have been prepared for all 3 singles that they released. The band also sang a popular support song for the Iraqi National Team in soccer and was featured on "Iraq Star 3" on Al Sumaria TV.[4]
In September 2010, they released their video clip of their song "Tet'thakkareen", this video was produced by UTN1 and they worked so hard to prove themselves by releasing this video, the video represents the new style and the real image of UTN1, people thinks that maybe this is the real image and they should stick to it, the video is making a great success and great feedbacks are coming from both Arabic media and audience.
They will go to the US to try to make some work their because their aim is to make it big in the whole world.
[edit]Tit'thakareen Album
Unknown to No One have just released their English/Arabic album titled "Tit'thakareen" and "One Last Time". The album is sponsored by Alaan TV, most or the songs are written and composed by the band, one of the songs in the Arabic part of the album is sung using the Egyptian dialect and another one using the Lebanese dialect, while the rest is sung using the Iraqi dialect,the album made a big success in lebanon and other countries like Egypt ,Jordan , Iraq ,emarate and morocco the music video of the new song "Alaan Ahibik Akthar" is released on MELODY TV.