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Iraqi hip hop artists find it a rough rap

posted 1 Sept 2011, 03:06 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 1 Sept 2011, 03:10 ]

Iraqi young people, who have adopted the music and culture of Western hip hop to tell the story of their daily lives, say they encounter hostility and misunderstanding.

 A group of young Iraqis, dressed in sports gear and wearing 'bling' jewellery, vault over a public park fence in the southern Iraqi city of Basra to run through a series of 'body popping' dance moves.

The group is a rap band, and they say misunderstanding and hostility has led to them constantly moving between open public spaces to practice their art.

"Hip hop is a Western art; we are trying to develop it to express the reality of our lives. We create stories and body movements to reflect that reality. We design a dance, imagine a problem, and solve the problem through dance," said rap band member Raghed Ra'ad.

"We come to public areas to practice, because we have no private place to do it. We tried to get a hall, but we couldn't. We don't receive support, so we've chosen public places. We perform in a different place everyday, because we were upsetting the army or the owner of a place. We agreed to practice in different places each day until we could find somewhere appropriate. We move from place to place, because what we do is controversial and most people don't like it," he added.

The group is among Iraqi youth who have adopted Western fashion and culture to create a local version of hip hop and tell the story of their lives.

They say it is a new way to reflect the suffering of Iraqis, whose music is more likely to be that of the traditional oud and rababa.

Young people in the rap scene in Basra feel that predominant traditional musical tastes has meant them turning to the local university for a sympathetic audience.

"There's a lot of criticism from outside the university and everybody scorns us. No one can understand what we do. So, when we came to the university, we found educated people who understand what we do. Thanks to God, we are trying to express ourselves and these people understand," rapper Hassan Tareq said, as his band performed at the cultural centre at Basra University.

The centre's head, Nassir Abid Ali, said their support of the musical form of hip hop was part of a broader effort to attract and integrate a variety of tastes.

"We have tried to attract young people in various cultural and artistic sectors, including the hip hop band, but we changed its name to the band of the body's expressive movements. There are special trainers, who will develop the band members' skills, so we can use them in plays and operettas, that will be produced by the culture centre in the coming days," said Ali.

Basra's hip hop artists rap in English. They say their language choice is because they want to convey back to the West the suffering of Iraqis.