In Algeria, youth revel in heavy metal

Friday 11/12/2015
Algerian rock group Traxx from the north-central city of Tizi Ouzou plays in the Algerian city of Constantine.

Algiers - They came from all over conservative Algeria, clad in black leather, studded bracelets and even the traditional Mus­lim veil to revel at a rare heavy metal concert.
Organised in the eastern city of Constantine — designated the 2015 Capital of Arab Culture by the Arab League and UN cultural agency UNESCO — the two-day Fest 213 brought together heavy metal mu­sic fans from across Algeria.
Headbanging and mosh pits may seem incongruous in Alge­ria, where the government prefers to promote traditional music and events that bolster its Arab-Muslim identity, but the country has had a solid core of metal fans for more than two decades and — despite occasional media charges of “devil worship” — the music is attracting a new generation of followers.
“This is really unprecedented,” a young woman from Constantine going by the name “Sadness Spirit” told Agence France-Presse at Fest 213, which shares its name with Al­geria’s international dialling code.
Dressed in black leather, with face piercings and dyed-red hair, she was waiting for a concert to be­gin, accompanied by a friend with her own piercings but also wearing a Muslim veil.
Nearby stood a group of young men dressed in black T-shirts, their arms tattooed and their hair slicked back with gel.
“Outside of concerts we don’t dress this way or act this way to avoid trouble,” said “Sadness Spir­it”.
The festival featured five bands, including Franco-Algerian acts Acyl and Arkan, but also home­grown outfits Traxx, Fingerprints and Numidas.
A far cry from the country’s Rai pop music, Algerian metal first emerged in the 1990s, a decade marked by a devastating war be­tween the government and Islam­ists.
With authorities preoccupied with battling extremism — the war eventually claimed 200,000 lives — an underground metal scene flour­ished largely unnoticed by the coun­try at large.
More recently it has come under fire, with conservatives accusing the music of corrupting Algeria’s youth.
El Biled, a conservative televi­sion channel, launched a virulent attack last summer against metal fans, accusing them of being “devil worshippers”. It broadcast a docu­mentary featuring fans speaking of black magic, with images of skulls flashing in the background.
The documentary prompted a backlash from metal aficionados on social media, with one Facebook page urging supporters to adopt the slogan “I’m a metalhead and a Muslim”.
Artists have also accused the government of using its control over concert venues to limit their performances, blocking some bands and telling others to change their lyrics.
Malik Chaoui, an Algerian cul­tural activist, said the government too often promotes “cultural poli­cies that aim to control thought” and needs to accept more diversity.
For now, followers of alternative music are doing what they can out­side the mainstream, using social media for promotion and finding independent associations willing to help organise events.
In Algiers, a group of young peo­ple have set up a group dubbed Mayhem to help promote musi­cians who play rock, metal and blues. It has arranged performanc­es on the terrace of the capital’s Museum of Fine Arts.
“Officials consider these move­ments as too Westernised and not profitable but in fact a metal con­cert brings in a lot of people,” said 21-year-old Mayhem member Za­karia Brahami.
(Agence France-Presse)