Yesterday I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across a link to an article from The Washington Post entitled “9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask.” That was perfect for me as I am not as savvy about world events as I should be. I was surprised to find, however, that within the article was an interlude that dealt with the music from Syria. This confused my little brain because it never would have occurred to me that the people in Syria were doing anything other than trying to survive, and musical creativity was likely not on the table.
I tried to research the topic of music in Syria and came up with lots of lists of Syrian musicians, but trying to do a deep dive on censorship and freedom of expression yielded much less. The vast majority of the articles I read were about artists who were of Syrian descent but no longer lived there. It makes sense that exiled artists are probably the more outspoken and able to express themselves most freely, but I was disappointed, if not surprised, to learn that there doesn’t seem to be much of a music scene actually in Syrian at this point.
There is what looks like an interesting exhibit coming up this fall in Washington DC. According to the website: “From war-torn Syria, after nearly two years of extreme violence, armed conflict and massive physical and human destruction, Syrian artists are expressing their desire and courage for freedom through peaceful artistic mediums. Building on Syria’s deep historical art and cultural traditions, Syrian artists have been exploring a wide range of mediums to convey their experiences and emotions, interpreting the events around them in personal styles and communicating bold dissent.” I’m a little concerned that it’s September, yet the website still says that dates and locations are TBA. Sounds like a cool concept, though.
In an effort to get a taste of Syrian music, here is what I hope is a cross section of sounds from that country.
The name Omar Souleyman pops up pretty frequently as a traditional Syrian musician. He has played countless weddings, and those performances are often recorded and then sold. He has also worked with Bjork and Gorillaz, and relatively recently he signed with a western label, which has allowed his albums to reach a wider audience. He also seems to tour rather extensively, so I’m not sure how much he actually hangs out in Syria anymore. Here is what I found on YouTube, which seems to be something of a music video. I think you can get a taste of the Syrian people and their enjoyment of his music in it.
Dubbed “The Sultan of Music,” George Wassouf has a slightly more mellow sound to him than Souleyman, and he certainly has a more western look. He has quite an extensive Facebook page, which is where I learned that he actually moved to Lebanon at a relatively young age and was granted Lebanese citizenship (and I also learned that he has 1.4 million Facebook followers!!!). Although he doesn’t like to “act” for the benefit of his videos, here is one that I don’t think seems to involve too much acting.
I found an article about the heavy metal scene in Syria that profiled the band Tanjaret daghet, whose names translates as “pressure cooker.” “If you don’t let the steam come out, there will be an explosion,” explained 31-year-old Khaled Omran, the lead vocalist and bass and guitar player, in the article. Similar to Wassouf, this group also left Syria in favor of Lebanon to escape military service and seek a more vibrant music scene. They steer clear of political issues but do not shy away from sharing their experiences living in Syria. Tanjaret daghet released their first album just a few weeks ago and have a real live video to show for it.
And finally, I’m sure you’ve been wondering about Syrian rappers. Yes, it turns out they do exist, but the article I read (from Rolling Stone Middle East) was pretty dismal as it was the only one in which the artists seems to actually still be in their war torn country. The group Refugees of Rap is comprised of four individuals who, appropriately given their name, live in a refugee camp. They have had their third album done for a while but have been unable to release it due to the fact that the lyrics criticize the government. I wasn’t able to find a whole lot of their work on YouTube, but this will give you a taste of what Syrian rap sounds like.
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