Syrian band brings music of Aleppo to Berlin

In this Dec. 18, 2016 picture Abdallah Rahhal, singer of Musiqana, a Syrian band based in Berlin, waits to perform a concert marking their record release at the former silent movie cinema Delphi in Berlin. Musiqana draw both German and Syrian people to their concert of traditional Arab music, although the band admit it is difficult to perform while the humanitarian disaster in Aleppo continues to unfold.(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

A band of Syrian migrants is bringing the music of Aleppo from better times to Germany with the launch of a new record

BERLIN — Instead of bombs there were beats. Guitars took over for guns. And there were cheers, not screams. But Aleppo 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 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 Arab Tarab, a traditional Arab music often referred to as "musical euphoria," with emotional and poetic lyrics.

They've been working on the five-track, self-produced recording called "The Beautiful One" since forming as a band in January, but almost called off the release party, saying it didn't feel right to celebrate and dance while the humanitarian disaster in and around Aleppo continued.

But in the end, they decided it was better to go ahead with the performance on Dec. 18, 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 have 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 that 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 the opportunity to "tell the German people about our culture. About our music. About how we make parties."

He says he also 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," he said. "But the problem is that my situation is that I'm a refugee. It is only the situation."

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