Mediterranean Music – Syria
Karadouran (al-Samra) beach on the Syrian-Turkish borderline in Kesab, Syria, with the slopes of Mount Aqraa (Turkish side) at the background.
Kevorkmail at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons
As you might expect, there are few photos of the Turkey Syria border crossing at Yayladağı, so my thanks to WikiCommons media for this more picturesque view of the border in the middle of that bay.
It has taken quite a while to write about the Syrian music I have found on this imaginary trip around the Mediterranean. There are a lot of reasons;
- Busy doing other things in life the main reasons (see other recent posts)
- Making a bigger cujltural leap from Europe/Turkey to Syria than I had expected it to be. Listening to many artists I was wondering “Do I think this is good just becaise it is more European than Middle Eastern or Arabic?” I have probably selected some music for that reason.
- The alphabet – you will see.
What I mean by that is bands and artists have names like كلنا سوا which I think translates as We are all Together (Kulna Sawa).
Kuina Sawa: They are from Damascus and are the first band I have chosen to highlight. And it may well be because they have a fairly strong European feel. If they were a European band I would probably find their music a little too melodic and smooth, but in my first faltering steps into this territory, they are my first stepping stone.
Hamza Shakkur: I have a lot to learn here – which is both exciting and challenging. For example, if I recommend the meditative music of Hamza Shakkur is that a bit like suggesting Gregorian chant or plainsong in Europe? Hamza Shakkur is chanting and singing verses from the Koran in “Sufi Songs of Damascus by Hamza Shakkur & The Al-Kindi Ensemble“.
In complete contrast there is a lot of thrash metal like Anarchadia also from Damascus. Or “extreme black metal” bands like Abidetherein (خالدونفيها) Not my thing – never was. But I can understand why it is there.
I can also understand why people like music like this (Anas & Friends) but I don’t.
For something more traditional
The Al Turath Ensemble (فــرقــة الــتـراث) is a Syrian classical Arabic musical ensemble founded in 1954 by Sabri Mudallah. Leadership passed to Mohammed Hammadye (مــحــمــد حــمـّـــادي) in 1985 who added instrumentalists to what had previously been only a vocal ensemble. The term al turath means “heritage.” Their repertoire centres on muwashshahs of Aleppo. (Wikipedia)
I still hadn’t found what I’m looking for at this point. But there was about ot be a break through and it was worth waiting for.
And to remind you, or tell you if you have not been here before, what I am looking for is the answer to the question “Who is the Horslips or Mostar Sevdah Reunion of [insert name of country here]?” Am I still asking the right question?
Khebez Dawle: are one of the few modern bands on the Spotify playlist and YouTube playlist. They are “in Arabic خبز دولة, literally ‘Government Bread’ … a Syrian post-rock band led by Anas Maghrebi. As of 2017, the band is based in Berlin. While the band members are war refugees, they prefer to see themselves as simply a rock band.” Wikipedia
I want to hear a lot more from Hello Psychaleppo – from Aleppo. I really like this confusion and concoction of original Arabic pop music and electronic treatments.
“Hailing from one of the most mystical and musically rich cities in the levant. Hello Psychaleppo is deeply rooted in arabic music tradition, captivating listeners with melodic strains of tarab threaded seamlessly together with the convoluted sounds of electronic music. Hello Psychaleppoʼs compelling visual presentation is integral to the live experience that engages the soul and moves the body. Hello Psychaleppo is the brain child of Aleppian music producer and visual artist Samer Saem Eldahr.
Hello Psychaleppoʼs first album “Gool lʼah” released in 2013 pioneered the music genre of electro-tarab . The album was the first of its kind, combining Arabic music theory and rhythms with electronic music tools and sounds creating a harmonious blend that is electro-tarab. Vice magazine described the music as, “a pastiche of twitchy electronic sounds and golden age arab pop music of the 1950s and 60s. It is alternately danceable and cathartic, melancholic and apocalyptic. Itʼs massive attack meets Abdel Halim Hafez.”
Hello Psychaleppo has released three full albums, ‘Gool lʼahʼ (2013), ʼHa!ʼ (2014) and ‘Toyourʼ (2017) creating a journey for listeners into the world of Arabic melodies, elaborate arrangements, and cathartic dance music.”
TootArd: It is, of course, quite pointless to travel or write about this region without acknowledging the jigsaw borders, territory claimed and counter claimed, occupoed or recovered. It’s not for me to imprint my interpretation (if I have any/any) or extrapolate any meaning, political or not. So if TootArd say they are from the “occupied Golan heights”, that’s for them to claim. Can we move no now please? Because TootArd are brilliant! Just Brilliant.
Are they Syrian? I don’t know. Their website says “Since 1967 the area has been part of Israel, but the inhabitants aren’t Israelis. They don’t have any citizenship. They don’t have passports. Just a laissez passer. And for the members of TootArd who all grew up in the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan, it’s a very apt name for their new album.”
I just love the sound and rhythm they create.
“Tootard are a young, trailblazing ensemble founded by brothers Hasan & Rami Nakhleh (born in occupied Golan heights, currently based in Bern & Haifa) who deftly fuse levant-tinted desert blues, melodic psych-rock, morphed reggae and classical Arabic modalities. Their second album Laissez Passer, is their debut international release and one of the first such releases from their homeland. Restless, buoyant and eclectic.”
Majdal Shams is about 50 km from the Med – but it’s my game and I will play it as I like.
Up to this point I have been relying on three main sources; Spotify, Wikipedia and Ethnocloud (many others as well, but these have been my starting points). There is one more to add to this Mideast Tunes. Of course you cannot listen to music from Syria without thinking about the endless tradgy happening there. Among the musician who stand against Bashir is Samih Choukier سميح شقير (also spelt Sameeh Shuqeir
“Samih Choukeir is a renowned musician, composer and singer in his native Syria. For the last 30 years, he’s written and recorded politically-committed songs, in favour of freedom of speech and in defence of oppressed peoples all over the world.
One of his songs “Yâ hayf” (Oh shame) has become an anthem of the Syrian revolution.
He wrote it in memory of the victims of the repression in Daraa in March 2011. The song openly criticises President Assad, calling him a traitor to his own people.”
Can’t find him on Spotify, but he in on the YouTube playlist.
Majd Al Hamwi يا لطيف. مجد الحموي seems worth exploring for more than I am going to give him now. The album on Mideast Tunes is melodic, quiet, slightly experimental:
The album Ya Lateef was recorded and produced in 2015, with the participation of a group of musicians and vocalists And with the support of Shobak Amal associations. It contains 6 songs that date back to the period after the revolution began in Syria, between 2011 and 2014, except one song that has been written in 2009. The project was developed in collaboration with musicians and singers friends who were not around during recording in 2015, since Syrians have been scattered in the world.
But the Soundcloud tracks are a lot more electonic, esoteric. A little more searching and we discover that Majd Al Hamwi is more than a musician,
Majd Al-Hamwi graduated from Damascus University, Faculty of Fine Arts (Oil painting department), in 2013. He participated in several collective exhibitions, as will as a solo exhibition in 2016 entitled Retrospective 2012.
He is the co-founder of the music band Hawa Sharki, that performed in outdoor spaces in Damascus, between the years of 2008 and 2011 .
In 2015, he produced – in Beirut – his first album: Ya Lateef.
He began working on several video experimental projects early on during
his university years. In 2013, he directed Operation Operation,
his first long documentary film – in partnership with Lawand Zaza, whom he collaborated with on his next films.
Syria has been more difficult that I expected and starting into this second leg of the journey, it has required me to look beyond my sual sources. Mideast Tunes will be a great new asset. And I might have to create playlists on platforms other than Spotify – so be it.
Books for the Journey
In my next post.
As there is a war and a dispute over the flag, I have chosen the UN recognised flag as the homepage illustration,
Want to travel further?
Gibraltar – Andalusia (or Andalucía) – Murcia – Valencia – Catalonia – France – Monaco – Italy’s North West – Western Italy – Italy – Toe to heel – Slovenia – Croatia – Bosnia and Herzegovina – Montenegro – Albania – Greece – Turkey – Syria – Lebanon – Israel – Palestine – Egypt – Libya – Tunisia – Algeria – Morocco