East Bay a safe haven for global rock musicians

October 21, 2011 7:19:16 PM PDT
Heavy metal music may not be everyone's taste, but in some parts of the world, that head-banging sound is actually illegal. There are places in the world where heavy metal artists are threatened with violence and prison.

For 23-year-old Artak Ozan, being a heavy metal musician in Tehran, Iran made him a target of his own government.

"If you're walking on the street with long hair, and some black metal T-shirt, people arrest you, they cut your hair," Ozan said. "They have scissors."

Ozan said he was beaten pretty badly after an arrest, but instead of taking off the heavy-metal shirt and shearing his hair, Ozan escaped.

It was Ozan's YouTube video of him playing music in a dark room that caught the attention of East Bay resident Chris Kontos.

"This kid was out of control on the guitar," Kontos said, "and he was doing things that are Bay Area-bred stylistically."

With Kontos' help, Ozan now calls the East Bay his home.

Kontos is the founder of a group called the Alliance for Artist Rescue, or AFAR. The mission of AFAR is to aid heavy metal musicians who are being persecuted in their home countries for their music and their message.

"We are oppressed heavily, and we are Satanic, and we are all of these things they want to throw on us, and most of us aren't Satanic," Kontos said.

Right now, Kontos is hosting a South African group called 'Contrast the Water.' The growling and screaming is shocking in South Africa, but it's their political message about the violence there that has put them and other metal bands on their government's radar.

"We have the most-liberal constitution in the world, but we live with the worst oppression in the world," said musician Barry Drewett.

They are not seeking asylum in the United States because they don't want to abandon South Africa. Instead, Kontos says he hopes to get them signed to a recording label and keep them touring outside South Africa where they are safe from attacks.

"If you're in danger of being attacked, beaten, killed, stoned -- anything for the music you play, and the music you're talking about, we're gonna help you out," Kontos said.

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