Syrian band brings music of Aleppo to Berlin

Sunday 08/01/2017
Abdallah Rahhal (C), singer of Musiqana, a Syrian band based in Berlin, performs during a concert marking their record release at the former silent movie cinema Delphi in Berlin. (AP)

Berlin - Instead of bombs there were beats. Guitars took over for guns. There were cheers, not screams. Aleppo, however, was never far from the minds of the band Musiqana and the crowd at its record release concert in Berlin.
“I didn’t know if I should cry or be happy,” said Samaa Hijazi, a 20-year-old medical student who has been in Germany about five years but grew up in Syria. “I was thinking about the times my father sang these songs. I sang them together with my brother. And they are all still in Syria.”
Lead singer Abdallah Rahhal, 28, is an Aleppo native, and the band’s music is the city’s version of tarab, traditional music often referred to as “musical euphoria” with emo­tional and poetic lyrics.
Musiqana has been working on the five-track, self-produced record­ing called The Beautiful One since forming as a band last January. The group almost called off the release party, saying it did not feel right to celebrate and dance while the hu­manitarian disaster in and around Aleppo continued.
The band members decided it was better to go ahead with the performance on December 18th, bringing their tarab songs, known to most in the Arab world, to a European audience.
“Every day there is tragedy and every day we play music,” said gui­tar player Adel Sabawi, who is from Damascus. “We came here not to make the people happy but we have a message: It is true that we are dis­placed but we have music and we have traditional music and we try to bring it here.”
The five band members are all re­cent arrivals, part of a wave of hun­dreds of thousands who made their way to Germany over the past two years. They met at an event called Refugees in Concert and have since played more than two dozen con­certs as a band, the largest one with the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra in front of 1,500 people.
The record release concert drew a mix of Germans and Syrians to a 1920s venue that used to be a silent film cinema before becoming a veg­etable warehouse in what was once East Berlin.
Many Germans had come to learn more about the Syrian culture of the migrants who are living next to them.
“I was simply curious,” said Heike Winter after the concert. “I wanted to get to know these people and their music and I’m really happy that they brought their culture here.”
Rahhal said the last 12 months has provided the band with the oppor­tunity to “tell the German people about our culture, about our music, about how we make parties”.
He said he hopes interacting with his German hosts will help them see him and his bandmates as some­thing other than refugees.
“Refugee, that’s not my name and it is not my work. I’m a singer. I’m a Syrian man,” Rahhal said, “but the problem is that my situation is that I’m a refugee. It is only the situa­tion.”
(The Associated Press)