News > Iraqi Armenians > Iraqi pop band 'Unknown to No One' is no more unknown
Artin (Art) Haroutiounian, Shant Garabedian and their three colleagues advance in their career
The new single song of the Iraqi band "Unknown to No One" (UTN1) is on air after months of hard work. The video clip has been displayed on pan-Arab music channel Melody Hits (on Nilesat) since late October 2007 and has been broadcasted on major Middle Eastern channels and radio stations.
The dream has come true, but this is only the beginning of a long path ahead, with new challenges. It took 10 years to come to this point. The band went through many difficulties starting from the last years of the old Iraqi repressive regime and going through the hardships of foreign invasion and the problems associated with securing legal residence and entry into countries where music production was possible. During the course of events the members were almost helplessly dispersed, each trying to solve own questions of livelihood.
During the Shooting of the Clip "While We Can"
Click to hear the song
Fortunately this uncertain situation did not last and through the emergence of sponsors and the moral strength of the members of the band and their belief in what they wrote and sang in the past period, they reunited in Jordan and Lebanon to
produce a new single work and to concentrate on their upcoming professional album bound to be available in 2008.
The video clip of the single "While we Can
" (see lyrics below
) somehow summarizes the story behind this band. It shows 5 children playing with wooden guns in their hands, playing in a rundown neighborhood, when they come across real ammunition. Terrified they ran out and come face to face with someone on the doorstep, equipped with sophisticated devices. At the first while, he looks like the terrorist who is going to blow up the whole place with a push of a button, but soon they understand he is just a photographer. The instant photo that the photographer takes is shown, at the end of the clip, in the hands of the already grown up children. The message is clear. As the words of the songs says "Love is the key to set us free. Why can't you understand. Let us change it while we can
". The friends understand now that love was the key to their survival and the well-being
of their society. It was the bridge that took them all, each carrying with him his own cultural or religious background, to future horizons.
At another location the song asks: "If you're looking for some hope and searching for a better life, you can have it if you want it, but what will you sacrifice?" The answer should be: your false pride and inflated egoism, xenophobic attitude and religious and ethnic narrow-mindedness. In one sentence: elements capable of destroying a society.
In time of war this song is a vocal cure for our turbulent spirits. Let us hope that it will have a long-lasting influence on ground in the modern war-torn Iraq.
We wish the "Unknown to No One" band a long-lasting reunion and rewarding career prospects for every member of the band, taken alone or as part of a unified group.
The group is working on its next studio album which will be released in 2008. Meanwhile, their first single has been launched in the Middle East (see above). Be sure to catch the "While We Can" music video on Melody TV and look for their second single "Jamila", an Arabic song, due out early December 2007.
Lyrics of "While We Can"
Interview with French Channel "Canal Plus"
In a time of war,
in a time of devastation,
when you seek the light
and you're longing for salvation
but it seems so far and it feels so dark,
all you see is a blur.
In a time of guilt,
in a time of wasted years,
nothing more than hate
and never ending fears
controls your mind,
takes away your pride,
nothing seems to be spared.
If you're looking for some hope
and searching for a better life,
you can have it if you want it,
but what will you sacrifice.
Love's the key to set us free,
why can't you understand.
Lets change it while we can.
We were lost sometimes,
seemed our lives had gone in vain
and the dreams we had,
were replaced by the pain.
I couldn't breathe sometimes,
I couldn't hold back the tears.
Something's broken inside.
If you're looking for some hope (repeated)
See video clip on YouTube below:
WHAT THE BAND MEMBERS SAY ABOUT THEMSELVES:
I am kind of a cool, relaxed individual. I love to listen to music a lot, I am social, sensitive, shy, love my work and I have dedicated most of my free time in music stores listing to what's new. I love to meet new people who are caring, I like shopping, going to movies, working out a lot in the gym, sport has taken a big share of my life. I like playing drums. I listen almost everything starting from classical music ending up to alternative heavy metal. To be creative I need to listen to all kinds of music, it opens a lot my imagination.
Music has always been my life. I don't remember when I started singing, I was so little. My eldest brothers & sisters were playing English and Arabic songs and I used to memorize them immediately. In primary school my sport and activities teacher was very supportive. She used to say that if ever become famous I should have to buy her a car. I was called "the singer of the school". I haven't stopped since. People around call me "the radio". No need to turn the radio on in a car or in any other place. I am always singing the latest hits whether English or Arabic, even in languages I don't understand. If I like the song, I sing it. I just came back from England when Art asked me to join the band and I couldn't say "yes" fast enough.
Born in France, raised between Iraq and Lebanon, I started to love music at the age of 7 when my mom bought me a small keyboard. I started out playing popular music. In 1997, at the age of 15, (because of the new wave and teenage music) I started to sing in karaoke and private parties with family and friends. I joined the band in late 1999 and it was time to start thinking about music in a professional way. I studied industrial chemistry and I earned my BSC in 2004. In 2002, my mom bought me my first guitar; I studied the music in an institute in Baghdad and continued working with the band till today.
I liked music when I was a child, but didn't think of singing or making a band till the age of 19, when the revolution of Boy bands spread through out the whole world. I never thought that one day I would be in a band and be known to many people. I'm a quiet guy, sometimes don't talk too much, don't like when people are rude. Don't like people who try to pretend that they know everything. Don't like people who won't listen to other's opinions, or try to stick to only certain people and then end up neglecting others. I would like to live in a cold country, a green country. Like to be alone when practicing on my singing (which is a problem sometimes). Sometimes I'm funny, especially with the band, try to say jokes, and make people laugh. Music now is all that I do, it became part of my life instead of just a hobby, and I'm sure we will do our best, because once you love what you are doing you are more creative.
Artin (Art) Haroutiounian:
The most important is not what I look at, but what I look for. Life is beautiful, but short - thus never hesitated to take a road that no one went through ("the road less traveled", is the saying), it's better to go through that way and leave a trail than taking a paved road where a lot of people went through. I'm a normal guy. I like pop music and R&B's. Don't like noisy places, prefer being alone at home with a hot cup of tea and a nice movie, or being with friends, rather than going out to a crowded club where everyone is trying to show what he is not.
UTN1 as described in their website:
Pop music fans looking now what could be the next big thing need only cast their eyes (and ears) toward ... Baghdad. Welcome to the ever-expanding world of UTN1. They're the little band with big dreams - and hopes of writing a storybook ending to what has been heretofore a remarkable tale of friendship, perseverance and pride.
This group's roots trace back to 1999 in the Iraqi capital, when keyboardist Art paired with his friend, singer Shant, to begin writing Western-style pop songs. Hassan, Nadeem and Akhlad joined shortly thereafter and the two became five.
Using the minimal resources at their disposal, the group managed to get its first ballad aired on an Uday Hussein-owned radio station - exactly once. Yet UTN1 persevered, recording its first multi-track album of original material in 2002. Freed from the restraints of the old Iraqi regime, UTN1 relocated to Great Britain to begin the process of professional training and recording that for so long was out of reach. For the first time, band members were surrounded by the music that had influenced each of them: Greats ranging from "Thriller"-era Michael Jackson and modern-day Robbie Williams to songwriting legends like Elton John and modern performance masters like Madonna.
Today, the band is hard at work on its first true professionally produced studio album ... and drafting the next chapter in what could ultimately be one of the most intriguing success stories in pop music history.
UTN1 united: Iraqi boy band goes for broke in Beirut
At Air-Edel Studios (London),
singing "Hey Girl".
Click to hear the song
After being split up and strewn across the region, musicians reunite in Lebanon to launch new singles, music videos and a forthcoming EP
By Kaelen Wilson-Goldie
In 1999, the five members of Unknown to No One were actually unknown to everyone. Forming a boy band in Baghdad to sing pop songs in English, they were at best a shot in the dark. No one in Iraq was listening to the Backstreet Boys or the Spice Girls then, and the masses weren't likely to be sympathetic to homegrown harmonizing in a language more often associated with deadening economic sanctions than with sugar-coated music that was barred from entering the country anyway.
Four years later, when the war broke out in Iraq, the boys had an eight-track album on their hands and a captive audience of shock-and-awed foreign journalists all desperate for a feel-good feature. Suddenly, the band became the best story coming out of a bad situation that was rapidly deteriorating from US-led invasion to disastrous occupation and devastating civil war.
Another four years later, with a roller-coaster ride in between, and Unknown to No One, shorthanded to UTN1, has been split up, scattered around the region and reunited in Lebanon.
On Monday [22 October 2007], the band's first single, "While We Can," is set for release on local radio stations. By the end of the month, a video clip for the same track will be making the rounds on television. By the end of the year, UTN1 will be launching a second single - the first in Arabic and perhaps the most accomplished pop song in the band's oeuvre to date - along with a forthcoming EP.
LCI Entertainment, the newly created multimedia company that is backing the band's efforts, is positioning UTN1 to capture Arab and American audiences at once. The two-tiered attack represents both a far-fetched dream and a fall-back option. It also suggests that this may be UTN1's last chance. Nearly a decade has passed since five friends started arranging songs on a crappy Casio 310 keyboard and learning to harmonize while driving around in a crammed Volkswagen Passat. A few of them are pushing 30. At least one of them has gone dramatically grey.
The past few years have been rough on the band members. They've been shuttled around from Iraq to Jordan, the United Kingdom and back again. They came to Lebanon just as Israel began its month-long bombing campaign last summer.
"The war followed us," says Akhlad glumly. Now 26, he plays the jozza, a stringed instrument that gives UTN1's music an Arabic touch. Securing visas and work permits has been a problem for them everywhere. And for more than three months this year, they were split up and strewn across the region, their movements replicating those of the Iraqi refugee population at large.
Hassan, 23, is the only one who has returned to Iraq - for three harrowing days after his father passed away. Shant, 28, and Art, 29, ended up in Armenia for months, if for no other reason than Yerevan welcoming them as young men of Armenian descent. But none had it worse than Nadeem, 24, who got stranded in Jordan over the summer - totally illegal and unable to do much more than sit around and be fearful of checkpoints.
A trip to Iraq
"I honestly don't know what I'll do if this doesn't work out," he said in Amman a few months ago, in reference to UTN1's uncertain future. "I was 18 when I joined the band. Now I'm 24 going on 25. Before, you could afford to waste time. Now, your days are passing and your years are passing. It's not like I have a very good resume."
Still, you can picture it all so clearly: Nadeem, the singer, is moody and mysterious. Hassan, the guitarist, is tall and handsome with a killer smile. Shant, the drummer, is articulate and mature. Art, the mastermind behind the music, is the shy one. Akhlad, meanwhile, is the cute one and the funny one. You can imagine the flocks of young female fans, each picking their favorite, putting up posters in their bedrooms and singing along with stars in their eyes to the smooth and - these being stock pop songs after all - occasionally inane lyrics.
"We are sure we will make people love us," says Shant. "Each of us has an image, a character. We studied this with a stage coach." Now the band has to prove itself. "Can we make people dance?" he asks. "Can we make them listen to our music in their cars?"
"We have been around the world now and we know the music industry is very competitive," says Art. "There are so many people out there with multiple talents. When I see Beyonce I say to myself: What the hell? She's a goddess. What can we do? But I've also learned that we don't have to compare ourselves to the others. We just have to do our work, with love, give people the music and let them judge."
Art, in effect, orchestrated the band into existence in the late 1990s. He and Shant were neighbors growing up. They heard Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album and decided that was where it was at. They wrote a few songs and got some airplay on Iraq's Voice of Youth FM, a radio station owned by Saddam Hussein's son Uday. They tagged an advertisement for three more band members onto the ends of the songs.
Hassan and Akhlad, meanwhile, were cousins and close friends harboring their own dreams of fame. They heard the ads and responded. Art arranged a meeting at a record shop.
"Art was this quiet guy," recalls Hassan. "But he was really a composer. It wasn't a hobby for him. Then Shant arrived and he was like someone straight out of 'The Godfather.' He walked in with his sunglasses and we were like, 'Oh my God, who is this guy?" Soon after, Nadeem, a childhood friend of Hassan's, returned to Iraq from the UK and completed the lineup.
The chemistry, recalls Art, was immediate. "We knew we were meant for each other. We were more than brothers."
Programmers at Voice of Youth told the band to record a song for Saddam Hussein's birthday. It'll be a door opener, they said. And in a weird way it was. The station played the birthday song twice an hour, every hour, for a week. Then the band recorded a love song called "Fancy Girl." The station played it once and dropped it.
Undaunted, the band brought a tape of the song to the only record shop in Baghdad that stocked Western music. The owner, Alan Enwia, liked what he heard and agreed to finance an album. "From Now On" sold 2,000 copies in 2002. Enwia sent a copy to the UK-based talent scout Peter Whitehead, who worked with Radiohead and the Stereophonics. Whitehead, too, liked what he heard and started to make noise about bringing the group to London.
Foreign journalists arriving ahead of the invasion flocked to Hassan's house. When they published stories about the band abroad, the intelligence services paid his parents a visit and terrified everyone. Then the war began. Enwia was kidnapped and killed. There were no more copies of the album and the original masters went missing.
UTN1 started to fall apart. Akhlad went to Sweden and was briefly replaced. Hassan decided to try his luck with "Star Academy." Shant got a job with a company that had been subcontracted by an American businessman working in Iraq.
In a last-ditch effort to salvage the band, Shant gave a CD of their music to the businessmen. A few years down the road, he is the majority shareholder in LCI Entertainment.
Now, after a white-knuckle wait on their work permits, the band is both reunited and legitimately residing in Beirut. "We are really eager for this moment," says Shant.
"We are tired of being the best story coming out of Baghdad," adds Nadeem.
"We want the music to play the main part in our story now," concludes Art.
For more information on Unknown to No One, please check out www.utn1.com
At Al Azraq Castle (Jordan)