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Old 12-10-2002, 01:12 PM   #1
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Iraqis find solace in US music

Iraqis find solace in U.S. music
Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys a hit in Baghdad Shopkeeper sells counterfeit cache of Western tunes



MITCH POTTER

BAGHDAD—In a land fully fraught with questions about what fresh hell the future will bring, there is at least one hideaway in the Iraqi capital offering surprising sounds of solace.

Tucked inconspicuously among a row of tiny stalls along Baghdad's popular Arasat concourse is Ghost Music Shop. Here, the soundtrack of the once and future enemy is stacked three metres high, compact discs of everyone from Elton John to Britney Spears to Backstreet Boys.

Considering the Iraqi regime's reputation for unrelenting cultural control, Ghost is among a small but growing number of retailers presenting a remarkably broad range of Western pop culture. Even rappers Tupac, Dr. Dre and Eminem are front-racked on these shelves.

Owner Saad Yousef, 40, is unabashedly thrilled with his inventory, a mix of pop, disco, rap, techno and alternative rock. Though he has never set foot in the English world, he speaks the language well "just from listening to the music."

For Yousef, the distinction between Western culture and Western aggression is easily made. "I love the American people. I love the music, the movies, everything. If just once I could visit Hollywood, my life would be complete," he says.

"It is the American leadership that terrifies me. I think George Bush is a scary man."

A parade of teenage Iraqi girls crowds the shop to buy the latest from Backstreet Boys, the current top seller. Shakira, says Yousef, is Number Two.

Yousef says that when he launched the store in 1997, the Ministry of Information furnished him with a black list of product forbidden for sale.

Topping the hit list of the Iraqi thought police is Boney M. The 1970s pop group may be a faded memory for most, but in Iraq they are Number 1 with a bullet among forbidden sounds. The knock against Boney M is twofold; not only have they performed in Israel, a long-time enemy of Iraq, the group is best-known for its hit "Rivers of Babylon," the timeless tale of Jewish exile which saw tribes of Israel land between the Tigris and the Euphrates — the heart of modern-day Iraq.

Yousef turns slightly pale when a visiting reporter points out the discs of several other artists whose concert history includes visits to Israel, Madonna and Radiohead among them.

But then he shrugs. "With this rule, eventually you would have to eliminate all music. I don't think that is possible."

Another English-speaker hanging around the shop — "I'm the biggest rap fan in Baghdad," he proclaims — suggests Iraqi security police have bigger things to do right now than monitor youth culture.

The continuing economic sanctions against Iraq have affected its cultural life in myriad ways. For the Iraqi National Orchestra, even the task of replacing violin strings is a sometimes insurmountable challenge. The Iraqi film industry has all but imploded, unable to develop what it shoots; by default, however, live theatre is flourishing.

For the music lovers of Ghost, the sanctions are a double-edged sword. On one hand, nobody in the store can name a single foreign pop star who has performed here in living memory.

On the other hand, CDs cost 2,250 Iraqi dinars — about $1.75.

Asked how he can sell for so little, Yousef pulls back a curtain behind the counter to reveal a five-bay digital duplicator. He counterfeits.

"This is what everyone does in Iraq. Because of the sanctions, we can't import legally," he explains. "So I get one copy of a disc either from Syria or Jordan — or if it's a really special artist, I will have it sent to me by friends in America. And then we just make copies. We also photograph the covers and reprint them beautifully."

Indeed, a disc of Céline Dion, the only Canadian artist to be found on these shelves, could easily pass for an original.

Yousef looks perplexed when queried on whether it matters that the artists earn no royalties on his method of business.

"I'm sure the record companies are angry, but we live under an embargo so what are we supposed to do?

"All I really care about is that people can enjoy the music. We need this to survive, to stay connected to the outside world."
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Old 12-11-2002, 02:09 PM   #2
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Let's make a deal


We give them the backstreet boys


in return for nothing


consider it a peace offering.
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Old 12-11-2002, 03:26 PM   #3
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I think they should have
"Red Skies At Night" by The Fixx-piped into their airwaves..


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Old 12-11-2002, 06:21 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by Arun V
Let's make a deal


We give them the backstreet boys


in return for nothing


consider it a peace offering.
Can we add Courtney Love to sweeten the deal?


That would really get things shaken up over there.
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Old 12-12-2002, 07:01 AM   #5
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yes..courtney love too. And Maybe the the guys from creed too.
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Old 12-16-2002, 06:03 PM   #6
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"listening to boy bands supports terrorism"
no wonder Iraq is so pissed off at the U.S, they only listen to crap music. Ther should be a free shipment of U2 CD's sent to iraq!
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Old 12-16-2002, 09:16 PM   #7
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Maybe they'll dig Taylor Dayne

Quote:
Originally posted by diamond
I think they should have
"Red Skies At Night" by The Fixx-piped into their airwaves..


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You know there are worse 80s songs you could send them!!!

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Old 12-16-2002, 09:42 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by CannibalisticArtist
"listening to boy bands supports terrorism"
no wonder Iraq is so pissed off at the U.S, they only listen to crap music. Ther should be a free shipment of U2 CD's sent to iraq!
That might ruffle a few feathers. If I recall correctly, U2 once covered a song called "The Ground Beneath Her Feet," originally written by Salman Rushdie of the punk rock group "The Salman Rushdies." (*)








(* derives from a comment made by Bono at the 6/8/2001 Elevation show in Boston.)
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Old 12-17-2002, 03:38 PM   #9
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you're confusing iraq with iran.
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Old 12-18-2002, 09:40 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by CannibalisticArtist
you're confusing iraq with iran.
Although "fundamentalist" Islam isn't as strong in Iraq as it is in Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries, there must still be a number of Muslims in Iraq who were less than thrilled by "The Satanic Verses."

And Rushdie did write an article recently titled "The Liberal Argument For Regime Change."
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Old 12-20-2002, 05:43 AM   #11
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yes but the only country to publically speak out against him and issue a fatwa on his head is Iran.
actually to tell you the truth, the common muslim doesn't even know who Salman Rushdie is especially now.
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