Emon Hassan

Guest Post: A Baghdad Story

Emon Hassan

by Yeman Al-Rawi I was born in 1994 (Sep. 11, ironically enough) in Baghdad, Iraq. My father owned a music/video store in Baghdad (from the late 80s till the war). However, it wasn’t only a music/video store, it was a very beautiful place that had always brought the finest qualities; from people, to music, to movies, to just about everything. My introduction to the guitar was at that very store, and it was where my music journey began. I’d sit with my dad’s friend, a very talented guitarist, and he’d show me chords to simple songs. Let It Be (by the Beatles) was probably the first thing I remember playing.

At that time, I wasn’t very much into the guitar, and I was taking piano lessons from Saad Hikmat, who’s among the finest pianists in the Middle East. He then moved me to his student, Rana, and I continued with her for almost 2 years but eventually had to stop because of the 2003 war. Although I tried to make it back to the piano, it never worked out well and I finally quit a few months before leaving Iraq in 2006.

The situation in late 2006 was horrible, probably as bad as it got; crimes and killings all over the place. My family and I had to move out, and Syria was the first step. My father had to stay in Baghdad to work, so it was only me, my mom, and my brother who moved to Syria. I started school there, and finished the first semester of 7th grade in a private school. They were probably the most painful days of my life, but those were the days that brought inspiration to me; I picked up the guitar and it was the only thing I could have fun with.

My father’s office (in Baghdad) was threatened and he had to move out as well; Jordan was the destination this time. We soon reunited in Jordan, and yet another change with a new society and new culture. I guess you know the rest…

In late 2008, we made it to the United States. There was a big cultural shock, but after living here for a bit over a year, things are starting to work out pretty well. I’m currently a sophomore (10th grader) in high school. Musically, I got to perform in an open mic and at my school’s talent show (first public performances). I also finished recording a set of songs for an album that will be released digitally sometime in the near future. Interesting notes about my family's music history:

My father’s aunt is the famous painter and musician, Widad Al-Orfali (http://www.orfaligallery.com/). She used to own a gallery in Baghdad, Al-Orfali Gallery, and it was one of the few places where you can have "fun" at in Baghdad. It wasn’t, however, only for paintings, she welcomed any type of artistry. A few bands would put on shows there weekly, and one of those bands was “Acrassicauda.” They played their first live show there back in 2002. They are currently based in New York and are establishing a wide thrash metal fan base, especially after their critically successful “Heavy Metal in Baghdad” documentary. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_Metal_in_Baghdad

In one event, I was called on the stage to sing “Nothing Else Matters” (by Metallica) featuring a band (family friends). I was probably 7 at the time and wasn’t actually singing anything… I was simply “humming” the vocal melody. After the concert, a radio-show host came up to my dad and asked if it was possible to get me to do this rendition of “Nothing Else Matters” in a live contest on the radio. I made it to the contest but pulled only 82 votes to the other guy’s 87. The other guy, Akhlad, did a beautiful rendition of Lionel Richie’s “Hello.” Akhlad won the prize, which was a cassette of SCLUB7, but ended up giving it to me. He is currently one of the members in the Iraqi pop group, “Unknown to No One” (UNT1). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unknown_to_No_One.

Listen to a Medley of originals by Yeman Al-Rawi. Yeman's Medley

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Also: Read interview with Yeman.