Metallica-inspired refugees’ troupe faces discrimination in Iran

Tehran : The band gathers in a small carpentry shop on the outskirts of Iran’s capital, with sawdust still in the air but the buzzing of the jigsaws now exchanged for the soft feedback of an amplifier.

A drummer strikes his snare four times and Hakim Ebrahimi opens with the first dreamy notes of “Afghanistan,” the sound of their Metallica-inspired rock ballad filling the air.

The four rockers that make up the band, known as Arikayn, are Afghan refugees, and their struggles mirror those of millions of other Afghans who have fled to Iran during decades of war. They once had to sneak through a Taliban checkpoint to pay a gig in their home country, and they face discrimination in Iran, but they say that hasn’t stopped them from playing the music they love.

“This is very hard for all of us, but when we play a song, we become the person that we want to be,” bassist Mohammad Rezai said.

Iran is home to one of the world’s largest and most-protracted refugee crises. More than 3 million Afghans, including over 1 million who entered without legal permission, live in the Islamic Republic, according to United Nations estimates.

Afghan refugees began arriving in Iran in 1978, following their country’s Communist military coup and the subsequent Soviet occupation. The occupation ended in 1989, giving way to years of civil war and ultimately a Taliban-controlled government.

Then came the 9/11 and the subsequent US-led invasion targeting Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, whom the Taliban harboured.

Three of the band’s four original members were born in Iran, including female guitarist and vocalist Soraya Hosseini, drummer Akbar Bakhtiary and Rezai. Ebrahimi came to Iran as a child. They formed the band Arikayn, which is Dari for “Lantern”, in 2013.

“When I was a child, we used Arikayn to find our way in dirt alleyways at night,” Ebrahimi said during a recent practice session at the carpentry studio.

Arikayn’s music recalls Metallica, not the speed-metal shredding of “Master of Puppets” but rather the introspective ballad of “Nothing Else Matters.”

Ebrahimi, who said his icon is Metallica frontman James Hetfield, evokes his guitar work in the band’s song “Afghanistan.”

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