Melechesh is one of the Middle East’s best known bands. Fronted by Ashmedi, they were founded in Jerusalem in the 1990s and have since gone on to play to tens of thousands of people across the world. The band is one of very few black metal bands in the region, the extreme form of the metal genre often associated with irreligiousness and Satanism.
Master of Persia is an Iranian thrash metal band founded by Meraj and Anahid, friends from Mashhad – a deeply conservative city in the northeast of Iran. The pair had to flee Iran after a religious cleric dubbed them Satanists, and they have lived in exile ever since. Anahid, one of very few female vocalists on the Middle Eastern scene was thrown out of her house and disowned by her parents for her music; while Meraj received 130 lashes after being charged with Satanism.
Monzer Darwish grew up in the town of Masyaf, near Hama, and played in numerous bands prior to the Syrian conflict breaking out in 2011. Together with his friend and fellow musician Bashar Haroun, Monzer travelled to war-torn Aleppo in 2013 to organise an underground show just a few metres from the frontline between rebel and government forces. He crossed the Mediterranean in 2015 and now lives in Holland.
Blaakyum’s frontman Bassem grew up in Beirut in the 1990s and was arrested during the regular crackdowns by the Lebanese authorities on heavy metal musicians. He recalls both the dying days of the civil war in the 1980s and bombardment of Beirut by Israel in 2006, during which Lebanese musicians holed up in bomb shelters and composed songs.
DAM is probably the most famous hip hop outfit in the Middle East. Formed by brothers Tamer and Suheil Nafar in 1999, the group have attracted worldwide acclaim for their political Arabic hip-hop. More recently, Tamer wrote a film, Junction 48, which tells the story of a young rapper growing up in Lod, a poverty-stricken Palestinian town in Israel.
Bashar Haroun was one of the founders of the Syrian extreme metal scene, starting U-Ground Studio – home to many of Aleppo’s heavy metal and rock bands – in 2004. In 2008, U-Ground was raided and he was arrested and thrown in jail in charges of Satanism. In 2013 he left his home city of Aleppo for Latakia, where he lives today. He is still active on the Syrian metal scene and hopes to return to organising shows in Aleppo when the war is over.
Ayman Mghamis, who performs under the stage name Abu Joury, is a rapper from Gaza. Mghamis moved to Gaza from Tunisia, where his family had lived as refugees, in the years prior to the Second Intifada. Now, sealed off alongside four million other Palestinians in the strip, his music is both a method of political protest and an outlet for more personal issues, such as family.