Iraq's Boy Band Dreams Big
By Fariba Nawa
Members of the band Unknown to No One: Nadeem Hamid (left), Art Haroutuanian (with hat), Diar Dullair (front), Hassan Ali (back), and Shant Garabitian (far right). Iraq's only boy band is riding a wave of publicity, appearing on major international media outlets. (Photo/Douglas Engle)

Five boys with a keyboard and a Volkswagen Passat. That's all it took to form Unknown to No One, Iraq's one and only boy band. Wide-eyed and ambitious, the boys represent the ethnic and religious mixture of Iraq. And a new spirit.

Nadeem Hamid, 20; Art Haroutuanian, 26; Shant Garabitian, 25; Hassan Ali, 20; and Diar Dullair, 21, came together three years ago and began producing English pop songs in Baghdad. They didn't make it big with an Iraqi audience. But the boys are taking advantage of the world's attention on their country to promote their unique status. They want to hit the pop charts in the West.

"You say this is just another boy band. But we're an Iraqi boy band. How many of those are there?" says Nadeem, one of the lead singers.

to a clip of the boys sing.

Their energy and spirit is refreshing among the worn-out, war-weary attitudes of Iraqi youth.

The boys are making a big splash with the media in Baghdad. They have been featured on most major TV news programs and on the print news services. The hip boys of Baghdad are anticipating stardom. Peter Whitehead, a British talent scout, has promised to promote their music. Barry Mason, the songwriter who penned Tom Jones' Delilah, has offered to write a song for them.

"I want to prove myself as an Iraqi person. We want to introduce Baghdad to the world through our eyes," said Shant, one of the band's creators.

With the help of their Iraqi manager, Alan Enwya, Unknown to No One produced its first album, From Now On. The favorite song among their listeners is "Hey Girl," a melodious confession of love and heartache. In the tradition of boy bands, their songs are actually all about love and girls.

Art writes the songs (he wrote his first song as an army troop in training camp). They compose their music on a keyboard, which they leave in the trunk of their Volkswagen. The car is their rehearsal stage. The bachelors all live with their families—single men and women in the Middle East normally do not have their own place until they get married. Their families believe the boys are unrealistic dreamers.

"They say 'Go and find a real job. Who's going to feed your wife tomorrow,''' Art says, and the other boys chuckle and nod their heads. "We have real jobs, but we want more."

Art is a civil servant in the ministry of trade; Shant is a goldsmith; Nadeem, Hassan, and Diar are university students. Art and Shant are Armenian Christians; Nadeem and Hassan are Shiite Muslims, and Diar is a Kurdish Sunni. They could be the poster children for
the diversity of Iraq.

The band was the brainchild of Art and Shant. They advertised for vocalists and recruited the other three into the band.

"I saw his songs and Art heard my voice and it was as if we had been waiting for each other all our lives," Nadeem said.

But promoting an English-singing band under a dictatorship has its hazards. The group could not get any of their songs to air on Iraqi radio unless they sang for the regime. So Art wrote a piece praising Saddam on his birthday and they forced themselves to sing it on the air. The hymn was replayed on the hour on the Voice of Youth radio program.

Then an American reporter interviewed their manager, Enwya, for a story on the band, and the secret police took him in for questioning. Iraqis were not allowed to speak to foreigners.

Now they feel free and on top of the world and soon hope to be at the top of the charts.

The boys say for Iraqis, this is the time to dream. The collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime is giving Iraqis an opportunity to express themselves.