What Really Happened With W:O:A Metal Battle Middle East?
Band: W:O:A Metal Battle Middle East
Author: Amir Kourosh - 2015-04-24
As we previously reported last week, the final round of W:O:A Metal Battle Middle East 2015 was cancelled. In this event, which was going to take place on 24th April in Cairo, Egypt, it was going to be decided which band was going to represent the Middle East in the world's biggest Metal festival: Wacken Open Air. This final round was going to feature Lebanon's finalists BLAAKYUM and Dubai's ASCENDANT, as well as three special guests: India's THE DOWN TRODDENCE, and the local bands NATHYR and CRESCENT. According to the organization, due to the impossibility for ASCENDANT to take part in the final, it had to be cancelled and the Lebanese Metal band BLAAKYUM were announced as the representative of the Middle East in the German festival. But it seems that the guys of ASCENDANT don't agree with the organization's statement, and they claim that they were willing and able to participate in the final.
Due to the exchanging accusations between the parts, as well as due to the fuss on social networks (with its own hashtag as we can see in this pic), we decided to contact ASCENDANT's drummer Aram Kalousdian and the organiser Monika Bremer, as well as BLAAKYUM's members, in order to shed some light over this issue.
The organizers of W:O:A Metal Battle Middle East announced on 15th April at 11 A.M. that "for some reasons the band ASCENDANT will not participate". They added that "Due to this situation, the band BLAAKYUM, the winner of the Metal Battle in Lebanon, will represent Middle East in the final battle in Wacken". The same day, only 4 hours later, ASCENDANT replied to the organization's statement, claiming that "contrary to that post, ASCENDANT is ready, willing and able to compete at the Metal Battle in Cairo on April 24th. We do not know the reasons for the cancellation and we look forward to a fair battle between BLAAKYUM and us". 2 hours later, at 5 P.M. the organizers edited their first statement, reducing it to "Unfortunately we have to announce today that the final round of the Metal Battle in Middle East can not take place as planned. More information will follow soon".
A couple of days ago, the organization posted another statement on its Facebook Page, commenting the following: "The final round of the Metal Battle in Middle East has been cancelled. The band ASCENDANT has been dropped off from the battle as they could not fulfill the rules to make sure that they can travel as Egypt does not issue visa for Syrians these days and the option for session players has been rejected. Thus the realization of the event was not secured any longer."
For its part, BLAAKYUM, the band which will represent the Middle East in Wacken Open Air, hasn't made any official statement. We totally understand their choice, specially if we take into account that both bands have a very close relationship. We have to keep in mind that vocalist/guitarist Bassem Deaïbess and Aram Kalousdian are bandmates in Syria's THE HOURGLASS. Anyway, it shall be mentioned that the band's guitarist Rabih Deaïbess posted on his personal Facebook account that "I don't like being congratulated on something we didn't win... It's a very sad news to know that our brothers ASCENDANT won't have the chance to compete for such a great opportunity... it would have fun and Metal to play in Cairo... None the less as BLAAKYUM we would like to thank you all for your support... And hope to be able to represent Lebanon the way this country deserves... And we promise to bring hell to Wacken". Despite the fact it isn't an official statement form the band, it can help us to guess how does the band feel about this.
After reading these statements, one can hint that the reasons behind the cancellation of the final round of W:O:A Metal Battle Middle East 2015 were due to some problems faced by ASCENDANT members in order to be able to travel to Egypt for taking part in the final. Given that the band stated that they were "ready, willing and able to compete in the final battle in Wacken", we asked their drummer about this. He told us that "after few days from the W:O:A Middle East battle of Dubai, ASCENDANT directly booked the flight tickets and reserved the hotel for the band. 3 members applied for the Egyptian visa through the embassy in Dubai and the two remaining members, due to visa restrictions for Syrians, applied through the Egyptian immigration in Egypt with the offer letter from Cairo battle organization". He added that "as a plan B, we were looking for session members to perform in Cairo in case our two Syrian band members - Alaa the guitarist and Youmni the vocalist - got rejected".
Organiser Monika Bremer doesn't share the same point of view on this. She states that the band was dropped out of the final round due to the violation of the rules 14 and 15 that the band agreed upon. She summarizes them saying that they consist of a compromise that "all band members can travel to the final in [the] Middle East and if applicable to Germany and as backup plan [...] make sure you have a session player". She also said that due to the refusal of the Egyptian authorities to issue visas for Syrians these days, she asked the band on April 7th to take care for session players. She reminded them again this on April 9th on another e-mail. According to her, on April 11th, she got an e-mail from the band stating that they weren't willing to go with a session player. On that e-mail, the band told her that "the problem lies in the fact that one of the Syrians is our vocalist and is a defining talent in the band. As such, replacing him is not an option we can consider".
Given that it meant that the competition rules where violated and the realization of the final round was not secured (based on the information that there is no official way for getting a visa for the Syrian members and that they are not willing to go with a session player), she decided to cancel it. According to her, when she told the band about that, they replied her saying that it was a misunderstanding, and that they had sessions players. She comments that "as I had financial and contractual deadlines and also responsibility for four other bands, partners and suppliers, I could not wait any longer". She adds that "Only AFTER I told them this again, they changed their mind and decided to go with a session player but when they told me this it was too late. So ASCENDANT violated the rules and the decision to correct the violation came just too late, regardless when I announced this in public". Regarding this, Aram Kalousdian states that "We just received an email from the organizer [...] [telling us] that unfortunately for unknown reasons they are going to cancel the show and they will announce BLAAKYUM [as] the winner of the battle. The statement was posted the next day on the Cairo battle Facebook Page."
When asked if was there any chance for getting a visa for the band's Syrian members through "unortodox ways", organiser Monika Bremer claims that "as [an] organizer I must think one step ahead and as [a] Wacken related event I cannot accept any other way for visa than the official one, risking that the event might be closed if only the smallest thing would not be 100% correct". According to her, Wacken Open Air organisers were aware of this, as they were involved in the decision before she informed the band. She also mentions that because of this situation, "Wacken invited ASCENDANT to come as guests to the Wacken Festival and to grant them access to the VIP area [were] they can meet all the promoters and people from the music business to promote themselves. [But] ASCENDANT rejected this offer".
Another important issue discussed on social networks was why the organization still insisted on organizing the final in Cairo, given that there were no Egyptian bands participating in the battle, and that the Egyptian government has recently made its visa policy tougher. Monika Bremer insists that there is no visa necessary for citizens of the UAE (including Dubai), apart from the fact that "we could not know who wins, so we did not know the nationality of the travelling people before". And despite the fact that Lebanese people need a visa to enter Egypt, the country has many agencies which do all the paperwork legally for getting a visa, what makes things go faster than the way over an embassy. According to her, other advantages of organizing the battle in Egypt was that both bands had to travel and that daily life and accomodation in Cairo is cheaper than in Dubai or Beirut, as well as that Egypt has the biggest Metal scene from all these countries and that it would be a great oportunity for both bands to play in front of a new audience. She adds that apart from that, in Cairo they were able to organize an open air concert on a suitable stage (at AUC's Greek Campus), what resembles more to the kind of festival that Wacken Open Air is, rather than an in-door venue. And she concludes that it was announced on 20th February that the final round was going to take place in Cairo, one month and a half before the first battles took place.
To sum everything up, we can say that what really happened with W:O:A Metal Battle Middle East was that it was a golden opportunity that was eclipsed by bureaucracy. Anyway, the "raison d'être" of this competition was to give a chance for a Middle Eastern band to be able to take part in world's number one Metal festival: Wacken Open Air. And we can say that the mission has been successfully accomplished, given that the Lebanese band BLAAKYUM will perform in this year's edition.
Due to a very strict visa policy towards Syrians (which has already been criticized by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch) Egyptian metalheads have been deprived of an amazing band competition which was going to feature two of the most promising Heavy Metal bands from the region. In addition to this, it seems that there has been a huge misunderstanding between the organization and ASCENDANT, which has led to the cancellation of the final round.
We can also affirm that visa refusals and passport-related problems have been the main challenge faced by the organization since the very first day. As we reported back in February, many of the bands that were initially announced for this competition couldn't take part in it due to this. As organiser Monika Bremer comments "we invited 15 bands to participate in the Middle East Battle. [...] Due to the visa and travel rules [...] not all bands were able to sign and to be in". She added that "at the end we had six bands accepting our invitation, 3 from Dubai and 3 from Lebanon".
These problems shall make us wonder about some of the difficulties that our Middle Eastern scene faces when compared with other regions' scenes. Added to the ones pointed out by Aram Kalousdian, such as the lack of label companies or enough budget to record an album in a proper studio or to perform in Middle East countries (especially since four years ago), we have to mention the travel difficulties, that avoids different countries' scenes to merge into a single one. Apart from that, we have also to do some self-criticism and take into account that "the bands in the Middle East [shall] remember that not everyone share the Arab "flexible" mentality, in Europe they are strict so there is no way to turn around the rules, and when you do it will backfire", as Bassem Deaïbess commented when asked about the challenges Middle Eastern bands face when they aim at touring abroad.
Despite the fact that this edition of W:O:A Metal Battle Middle East has faced many difficulties, we urge the organisers to not give it up. Our bands deserve to have the chance of being part of Wacken Open Air's line up. And we are sure that they have learnt from these hardships and it will let them grow stronger in next years.