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Friday, 22 June, 2001, 22:55 GMT 23:55 UK
Western music a hit in Iraq
Food market, Baghdad
Baghdad's markets are busy despite the sanctions
By Caroline Hawley in Baghdad

In Baghdad, young Iraqis are finding solace in Western music, as they try to reach out to the outside world after a decade of sanctions.

Brian from Westlife
Westlife is popular in Iraq, as well as the UK
Iraq's most popular radio station is Voice of Youth FM. Owned by Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, it is essential listening for young Baghdadis who want to keep up with the global beat despite international isolation.

The station plays music including The Corrs, Michael Bolton, and Desiree.

DJ Ruqaya Hassan quizzes callers in a daily phone-in show. She gets a wide response from young Iraqis eager to show off their knowledge of the latest hits.

"The main aim behind forming this station is to give top entertainment for those guys and girls that are interested in music and to keep them in touch with the latest happenings in the music scene," she says. " We are trying to get through the sanctions, not to give up and say, 'oh this is sanctions, and that's it'."

"No, we are trying to do our best to keep in touch with life, with everything."

Black market

They stay in touch through friends living abroad, and magazines and CDs sold in the affluent neighbourhood of Arasat al-Hindiya.

The owner of the Ghost CD store, Saad Yussef, says Western music is popular because it allows Iraqis to feel connected to the outside world. But because the West - under the current sanctions regime - does not want Iraq to import it, it is not easy to get hold of.

We like hanging around, playing, everything - just like others

"We used to take our new material from so many countries, such as England, America, France, Germany, and now, because of the sanctions, we can't take it, except only from Jordan," he says.

Mr Yussef's CDs are pirated and they sell for the equivalent of just two dollars. In Iraq's sanctions-warped economy that is well over a week's salary for the average civil servant.

But for the shop's young customers it is a price worth paying. Although Iraqis blame the West for the embargo, they draw a distinction between Western governments and their people and culture.

"I love this music, this kind of music and so do my friends," says one customer. "It's nice. Boyzone. Back Street Boys. Westlife."

Message to the world

Many young Iraqis say they are just like young people anywhere and want to be seen and allowed to live as such.

"We like music. We like reading. We like hanging around, playing, everything - just like others," said one student.

Musician Aws Nayeb has composed a song in English as a message to the world about sanctions. He says he has not been able to leave Baghdad for 10 years, that he feels cut off from the world, and that in an age when the West is exploring space, it should not be putting a whole people in a cage.

"They try to take everything from you - your mind, your heart, your eyes, your soul," goes the song.

Mr Nayeb says it is tough to keep a band together in a country where so many people have to hold down several jobs to make a living. But music for him, and other young Iraqis, is an escape from their isolated and difficult lives.

"By music, or by anything else, even by painting - we must find another way for our life," he says.

And he sings: "You're sitting here all alone, and the tears fill up your eyes. You've got no legs to walk, you've got no wings to fly."

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See also:

18 Jun 01 | Middle East
Iraq 'by-passing sanctions'
05 Jun 01 | Middle East
UN debates Iraq sanctions
16 May 01 | Middle East
Iraq's neighbours warned on sanctions
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