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Death metal band Asphyx headbanging during a performance. AsphyxBand.jpg
Death metal band Asphyx headbanging during a performance.

Headbanging is violently shaking one's head in time with music. It is common in the contemporary rock, punk and heavy metal music genres, where headbanging is often used by musicians on stage. In recent times, headbanging has become more common in various electronic dance music genres. [1] Headbanging is also common in traditional Islamic Sufi music traditions such as Qawwali in the Indian subcontinent and Iran.



Illustrative video of headbanging

Sufi music

Headbanging has been common in Islamic devotional Sufi music traditions dating back centuries, such as the Indian subcontinent's 600-year-old Qawwali tradition, [2] [3] and among dervishes in Iran's Kurdistan Province. [4] Qawwali performances, particularly at Sufi shrines in the Indian subcontinent, usually in honour of Allah, Islamic prophets, or Sufi saints, often have performers and spectators induced into a trance-like state and headbanging in a manner similar to metal and rock concerts. [5] [6] [7] A popular song often performed by Sufis and fakirs in the Indian subcontinent is the 600-year-old "Dama Dam Mast Qalandar" (in honour of 13th-century Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar), which often has performers and spectators rapidly headbanging to the beats of naukat drum sounds. [3]

The most well-known Qawwali performer in modern times is late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whose performances often induced trance-like headbanging experiences in the late 20th century. [2] Khan's popularity in the Indian subcontinent led to the emergence of fusion genres such as Sufi rock and techno qawwali in South Asian popular music (Pakistani pop, Indi-pop, Bollywood music and British-Asian music) in the 1990s which combine the traditional trance-like zikr headbanging of Qawwali with elements of modern rock, techno or dance music, which has occasionally been met with criticism and controversy from traditional Sufi and Qawwali circles. [8]

Rock music

The origin of the term "headbanging" is contested. It is possible that the term "headbanger" was coined during Led Zeppelin's first US tour in 1969. [9] During a show at the Boston Tea Party, audience members in the first row were banging their heads against the stage in rhythm with the music.

Furthermore, concert footage of Led Zeppelin performing at the Royal Albert Hall January 9, 1970, on the Led Zeppelin DVD released in 2003, the front row can be seen headbanging throughout the performance. [10]

Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath are among the first documented headbangers, as it is possible to see in footage of their gig in Paris, 1970. [11]

Lemmy from Motörhead, however, said in an interview on the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years , that the term "Headbanger" may have originated in the band's name, as in "Motorheadbanger".

Ian Gillan, frontman of Deep Purple, when asked if he invented headbanging, said: "That’s a definite possibility", although he claimed that "it was not really head banging — more hair floating". [12]

The practice itself and its association with the rock genre was popularized by guitarist Angus Young of the band AC/DC. [13] [ unreliable source? ]

Early televised performances in the 1950s of Jerry Lee Lewis depict young male fans who had grown their hair in the fashion of Lewis, where his front locks would fall in front of his face. Lewis would continuously flip his hair back away from his face, prompting the fans to mimic the movement in rapid repetition in a fashion resembling Head banging.

Dave Tyo of Bipolar demonstrating the 'whiplash' technique at CBGB in New York City. BIPOLAR-Dave Tyo Headbang CBGB.jpg
Dave Tyo of Bipolar demonstrating the 'whiplash' technique at CBGB in New York City.


At least one parrot, a cockatoo named Snowball, developed the habit of headbanging to music, causing something of an internet sensation. [14] Scientists were intrigued, as untrained dancing among animals is rare. [15]

Health issues

In 2005, Evanescence guitarist Terry Balsamo incurred a stroke which doctors postulated may have been caused by frequent headbanging. [16] In 2007, Irish singer and former Moloko vocalist Roisin Murphy suffered an eye injury during a performance of her song "Primitive" when she headbanged into a chair on stage. [17] In 2009, Slayer bassist/vocalist Tom Araya began experiencing spinal problems due to his aggressive form of headbanging, and had to undergo anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. [18] [19] In 2011, Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine said that his neck and spine condition, known as spinal stenosis, was caused by many years of headbanging. [20] Slipknot sampler Craig Jones once suffered from whiplash after an extended case of powerful headbanging[ citation needed ].

Several case reports can be found in the medical literature which connect excessive headbanging to aneurysms and hematomas within the brain and damage to the arteries in the neck which supply the brain. More specifically, cases with damage to the basilar artery, [21] [22] the carotid artery [23] and the vertebral artery [24] have been reported. Several case reports also associated headbanging with subdural hematoma, [25] [26] sometimes fatal, [27] and mediastinal emphysema similar to shaken baby syndrome. [28] An observational study comparing headbanging to non-headbanging teenagers in a dance marathon concluded that the activity is associated with pain in varying parts of the body, most notably the neck, where it manifests as whiplash. [29]

See also

Related Research Articles

Head injury Serious trauma to the cranium

A head injury is any injury that results in trauma to the skull or brain. The terms traumatic brain injury and head injury are often used interchangeably in the medical literature. Because head injuries cover such a broad scope of injuries, there are many causes—including accidents, falls, physical assault, or traffic accidents—that can cause head injuries.

Dhol double-headed Indian drum

Dhol can refer to any one of a number of similar types of double-headed drum widely used, with regional variations, throughout the Indian subcontinent. Its range of distribution in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan primarily includes northern areas such as the Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Kashmir, Sindh, Assam Valley, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Konkan, Goa, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The range stretches westward as far as eastern Afghanistan. A related instrument is the dholak or dholki.

Music of Pakistan music and musical traditions of Pakistan

The Music of Pakistan includes diverse elements ranging from music from various parts of South Asia as well as Central Asian, Middle Eastern, and modern-day Western popular music influences. With these multiple influences, a distinctive Pakistani sound has emerged.

Abusive head trauma

Abusive head trauma (AHT), commonly known as shaken baby syndrome (SBS), is an injury to a child's head caused by someone else. Symptoms may range from subtle to obvious. Symptoms may include vomiting or a baby that will not settle. Often there are no visible signs of trauma. Complications include seizures, visual impairment, cerebral palsy, and cognitive impairment.

Dura mater Thick membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord

Dura mater is a thick membrane made of dense irregular connective tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It is the outermost of the three layers of membrane called the meninges that protect the central nervous system. The other two meningeal layers are the arachnoid mater and the pia mater. The dura surrounds the brain and the spinal cord. It envelops the arachnoid mater, which is responsible for keeping in the cerebrospinal fluid. It is derived primarily from the neural crest cell population, with postnatal contributions of the paraxial mesoderm.

Data Darbar Sufi shrine in Pakistan

Data Darbar, located in the city of Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan is the largest Sufi shrine in South Asia. It was built to house the remains of the Muslim mystic, Abul Hassan Ali Hujwiri, commonly known as Data Ganj Baksh, who is believed to have lived on the site in the 11th century CE.

Subdural hematoma Hematoma usually associated with traumatic brain injury

A subdural hematoma (SDH) is a type of bleeding in which a collection of blood—usually associated with a traumatic brain injury—gathers between the inner layer of the dura mater and the arachnoid mater of the meninges surrounding the brain. It usually results from tears in bridging veins that cross the subdural space.

Epidural hematoma Build-up of blood between the dura mater and skull, usually caused by injury

Epidural hematoma is when bleeding occurs between the tough outer membrane covering the brain and the skull. Often there is loss of consciousness following a head injury, a brief regaining of consciousness, and then loss of consciousness again. Other symptoms may include headache, confusion, vomiting, and an inability to move parts of the body. Complications may include seizures.

Rahat Fateh Ali Khan Pakistani sufi singer

Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, is a Pakistani musician, primarily of Qawwali, a devotional music of the Muslim Sufis. He is the nephew of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, son of Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan and also grandson of Qawwali singer Fateh Ali Khan. In addition to Qawwali, he also performs ghazals and other light music. He is also popular as a playback singer in Bollywood and the Pakistan film industry.

Sexual headache is a type of headache that occur in the skull and neck during sexual activity, including masturbation or orgasm. These headaches are usually benign, but occasionally are caused by intracranial hemorrhage and cerebral infarction, especially if the pain is sudden and severe. They may be caused by general exertion, sexual excitement, or contraction of the neck and facial muscles. Most cases can be successfully treated with medication.

Sufi music is the devotional music of the Sufis, inspired by the works of Sufi poets, like Rumi, Hafiz, Bulleh Shah, Amir Khusrow and Khwaja Ghulam Farid.

Music of Bollywood Songs featuring in Bollywood films

Bollywood songs, more formally known as Hindi film songs or filmi songs, are songs featured in Bollywood films. Derived from the song-and-dance routines common in Indian films, Bollywood songs, along with dance, are a characteristic motif of Hindi cinema which gives it enduring popular appeal, cultural value and context. Hindi film songs form a predominant component of Indian pop music, and derive their inspiration from both classical and modern sources. Hindi film songs are now firmly embedded in North India's popular culture and routinely encountered in North India in marketplaces, shops, during bus and train journeys and numerous other situations. Though Hindi films routinely contain many songs and some dance routines, they are not musicals in the Western theatrical sense; the music-song-dance aspect is an integral feature of the genre akin to plot, dialogue and other parameters.

Vertebral artery dissection traumatic or nontraumatic vertebral artery rupture

Vertebral artery dissection (VAD) is a flap-like tear of the inner lining of the vertebral artery, which is located in the neck and supplies blood to the brain. After the tear, blood enters the arterial wall and forms a blood clot, thickening the artery wall and often impeding blood flow. The symptoms of vertebral artery dissection include head and neck pain and intermittent or permanent stroke symptoms such as difficulty speaking, impaired coordination and visual loss. It is usually diagnosed with a contrast-enhanced CT or MRI scan.

Urumi (drum)

The urumi is a double-headed hourglass-shaped drum from the state of Tamil Nadu, South India. Two skin heads are attached to a single hollow, often intricately carved wooden shell. The preferred wood is jackwood, although other woods like rosewood may be used. Both left and right heads are usually made from cow hide that is stretched around a thin metal ring. The outer circumference of each head is perforated with approximately seven to eight holes. The two heads are held in tension by a continuous rope that is woven around the drum in a V-shape pattern. Additional small coils of string or metal are tied around each pair of ropes near the left head. These coils can be slide horizontally along the length of the drum, increasing or decreasing the tension between the heads as necessary. For example, during the monsoon season the drum heads will slacken so much that the instrument becomes unplayable. Using these coils drummers can easily rectify such problems.


Noisecreep is a hard rock and heavy metal music news and media website based in the United States. The site was created by AOL Music in March 2009.

Dama Dam Mast Qalandar is a spiritual Sufi song written in the honour of the most revered Sufi saint of Sindh, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (1177–1274) of Sehwan Sharif. The original poem was initially written by the 13th-century Sufi poet Amir Khusrow, then further modified by Bulleh Shah in the 18th century.

Inner Sanctum is a Death/Thrash metal band from Bangalore, India. They were formed in 2006.

Dhruv Sangari Indian singer (b. 1981)

Dhruv Sangari also known as Bilal Chishty Sangari بلال ڇݜتى سنگارى is a Sufi and Classical Indian vocalist, composer, lyricist, savant and teacher. He is the son of well known scholar and author Kumkum Sangari and noted painter Mahendra 'Manu' Sangari.


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