The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians: music against violence

The Syrian crisis is easily one of the most tragic occurrences of present days, and sadly, there is no resolution in sight. As a popular quote, attributed to Confucius, goes, “When music and courtesy are better understood and appreciated, there will be no war” – and it seems like some musicians out there are living by these values.

Five years ago, a unique Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music (or in abbreviation, SNOAM), alongside with big stars ranging from Plácido Domingo to Gorillaz, performed in Damascus Opera House with great success. Today, the 90 piece orchestra is scattered around the globe by the horrifying war, with some of its former musicians embracing the refugee status in the Middle East, Europe and the US, while others made a hard decision to stay and perform at their home country. Although the latter is beyond dangerous, the performers are trying to do their best to lift the spirit of other innocent people surviving in the conflict-torn country by using the power of music.

One of the performers is a 24-year-old Raneem Barakat, who has braved way too many bombs and bullets to live in permanent fear. The young choir singer notes that “music is like a painkiller”. The risk, according to Raneem, is definitely worth it when it comes to soul healing, hypnotising effects of music.

At the moment, former and present members of SNOAM are reunited under the wing of the Africa Express music collective. Remarkably, the person behind the collective is famous Damon Albarn, the lead singer of the alternative rock band Blur and the leader behind the virtual band Gorillaz.

Damon_Albarn

The logistical problems faced by the organisers were tremendous. For instance, the project was almost ruined before its launch by the necessity of getting visas for 50 Syrian musicians. A week before the tour was due to start, it still wasn’t clear whether all performers could get Schengen visas – without those, it would be impossible to book the flights. The rumour has it that the founders had to make some desperate calls to British officials, and subsequently hire an entire Boeing Boeing 737 to safely transport all the musicians together.

The difficulties are resolved and left behind, however. The collective is touring the globe, performing with stars such as Paul Weller and Bassekou Kouyaté. The Africa Express has opened a reputable Glastonbury festival, which was on from 22nd to 26th of June, 2016, and their vibrant performance was warmly welcomed by the audience.

On 25th of June, the collective performed at Southbank Centre. The performance featured amazing guests such as Bassekou Kouyaté, Bu Kolthoum, Eslam Jawaad, Faia Younan, Julia Holter, Lotfi Bouchnak, Malikah, Mounir Troudi, Noura Mint Seymali, Paul Weller, Rachid Taha and TALA.

The main goal of the tour, besides reuniting the original Orchestra, is to raise awareness of the ongoing Syrian conflict and its victims forced to leave the country by celebrating the incomparable music and unique culture of Syria.

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