Iraqi Rockers Acrassicauda to Host Brooklyn Benefit for Immigrant Resettlement
Testament's Alex Skolnick & Slipknot's Jay Weinberg among performers.
Members of the Iraqi metal band Acrassicauda, who risked their lives writing and performing western-style rock music in their native country, will host a benefit concert to support immigration resettlement programs in Brooklyn on Sunday.
Original members, drummer and songwriter Marwan M and guitarist and vocalist Faisal Talal, -- who became U.S. citizens in 2016 -- will headline (with the help of members of Staten Island Rockers Sicada) United We Stand, an all-ages show at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn beginning at 6 p.m. Sunday. The lineup includes I Killya, Sun & Flesh, Robots and Monsters, and Signals of Bedlam, as well as special guest stars Alex Skolnick of Testament, who co-produced Acrassicauda's debut recording, the 2010 EP, Only the Dead See the End of the War, and Jay Weinberg, the son of E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg, who has been keeping the beat for Slipknot since late 2013.
The band's decision to put together the fundraiser -- and effectively jump into the volatile debate sparked by the Trump administration's attempts to institute a Muslim travel ban -- marks an about-face for Acrassicauda's members who had steadfastly avoided discussing politics as it pertains to Iraq and the United States.
"We dodged that conversation because of everything we went through growing up in Iraq," Marwan tells Billboard. "But what's going on here is idiotic and making us sick to our stomachs. We decided that we can't pretend nothing is happening. This country is built on immigration and the idea of diverse cultures united," he continued. "So many Americans are people who have fled their countries for one reason or another and built a home here. And this country has benefited from them."
Acrassicauda's fraught existence in Iraq was documented in the 2007 Vice documentary Heavy Metal Baghdad. The band, which is named after a highly poisonous Arabian scorpion, sought asylum in the United States and Canada in 2009, with the current lineup settling in New York's tri-state area. In 2016 -- 14 years after forming -- the group released its first full-length album, Gilgamesh, after raising more than $37,000 to record and produce it via Kickstarter. But despite their U.S. citizenship, Marwan says he and his fellow band members, who were born into Shiite, Sunni and Christian families in Iraq, find themselves struggling against a whole new set of stereotypes. "In Iraq, they called us Satanists and Americanized," he says. "Now we come here, and we're being called terrorists and other names."
The cultural and political divisiveness that has escalated domestically since the 2016 presidential election "reminds me a bit of Iraq," Marwan says. Instead of tribal conflict among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, "People are divided by whether they're right-wing, left-wing, Democrats or Republicans." He adds: "I know from personal experience that the worst type of warfare is civil war. That's when your neighbor -- or someone you've known for years -- turns against you."
The idea for the benefit was sparked by the Muslim travel ban and came together in about a week. "I called my friend Faisal and I said, 'We should do something about this.' We've tried to stay away from politics, but [in the wake of the ban], it's cowardice." Skolnick, Weinberg and the other bands were soon onboard.
Marwan texted me like two weeks ago, when there were riots at the airports," says Weinberg, who befriended the band in 2009 when he recognized the members at an airport baggage claim after seeing Heavy Metal Baghdad. "He said, 'We're thinking of doing this benefit. Are you available?' I said, 'Tell me when and where, and I'm there.'"
"If you've seen the documentary, then you know what those guys went through just to be a band; just to practice," Weinberg says of Acrassicauda's members. "They are trying to live, quote unquote, the American dream, but it seems more difficult to attain these days. So, they are standing up and speaking out for what’s right. They walk the walk, and if I can contribute to a cause that they’re behind, I’m honored to be a part of it."
Marwan says that all proceeds -- including from the sale of Acrassicauda merchandise -- will be donated to immigration resettlement causes. Although the band has not designated a single organization as the beneficiary of the concert, he expects that at least a portion of the money raised will go to the International Rescue Committee, which helped the band members resettle in the United States. "We are also inviting representatives from other humanitarian organizations, NGOs and activists to speak at the show," he says. "One of the things that makes America great is that people here stand up for what they believe."