WRITTEN BY MARIA LEICHTY, STAFF REPORTER
March 2011. The Syrian Revolution began.
The spark which helped ignite the conflict involved Syrian children. Boys in the town of Daraa, 10- to 15-years-old, graffitied sayings they had heard in Egypt and the surrounding countries during the Arab Spring.
Two and a half years later in November 2013, more than 110,000 Syrians have been killed, around 6,000 of whom were children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Now, one Syrian-American composer and pianist is using music to draw more attention to the plight of the Syrian people.
Malek Jandali presented on a concert series focusing on these children of his homeland. “The Voice of the Free Syrian Children” was presented in Detroit and New York City on Oct. 13 and 26, respectively.
These concerts featured Rutgers University professor Abdulrahim Alsiadi who plays the oud—a Middle Eastern instrument similar to guitar—and Aliah Ajamoughli, a Butler University student who plays cello.
“This whole concert was inspired by the children, because the children started the revolution,” Ajamoughli said.
Jandali said the Syrian Revolution began as a peaceful revolution because it started with the children.
“Children are as peaceful as angels because they are as close to the Creator as can be,” Jandali said. “They are not discussing politics, they are simply demanding human rights and freedom.”
Both concerts showed pictures of children in Syria on a big screen while the trio performed.
In Detroit, Ajmoughli said Alsaidi broke out in tears while a video about the Syrian children was shown during Jandali’s composition, “Syria-Anthem of the Free.” In New York, the whole audience joined in singing the anthem.
“Music can cross the socio-political barriers and go straight into the human heart and deliver the message without any permission,” Jandali said. “That’s what the ‘Voice of the Free Syrian Children’ is all about.”
William Grubb, Butler associate professor of music, has given Ajamoughli cello lessons for the past three years.
“Music is the international language,” Grubb said. “People may speak different languages but everyone responds to music.”
Jandali has been using music as vehicle for resistance since 2004.
He received a scholarship at Queens University for piano performance and composition in 1994 but in 2004 he returned to Syria and wanted to perform his first project, “Echoes from Ugarit.” The piece contains the oldest musical notation in the world, from Ugarit, Syria, in 3400 B.C.
He was banned from doing so in Syria and after going through many channels, ended up having to speak with a high authority in 2010.
The revolution broke out shortly afterward in 2011 and the performance never became a reality.
This is the year he composed “Watani Ana,” or “I am my Homeland,” which became an iconic song for the revolution.
After playing “Watani Ana” in Lafayette Park near the White House, Jandali said the Syrian government heard about his performance and seized his parents.
His mother and father were both beaten in retaliation for his performance but managed to escape to America. He said the Syrian government thought this would discourage him from continuing. It had the opposite effect, however.
He came out with his second album, “Emessa (Homs),” in 2012 and wrote “Syria-Anthem of the Free” in 2013. “The Voice of the Free Syrian Children” concerts premiered four songs that will be coming out on his next album.
He is also working on a symphony meant to tell the story of the peaceful Syrian revolution, he said. This is to be recorded with one of the top five orchestras in America.
He also added that it would be an honor to come perform this project at Butler. He is working with Ajamoughli to try and make this happen.
Ajamoughli is a junior cello performance major who contacted Jandali in search of research information. He found out she played cello and had Syrian ancestry, so he asked her to play with him in the concerts.
Ajamoughli said Syrian music came easy to her since she grew up with her father, Ghaith, singing it around the house.
Ghaith Ajamoughli lived in Homs, Syria before the Bashar al-Assad regime falsely accused him of being associated with an Islamic extremist group called the Muslim Brotherhood. When this happened, he fled the country and came to America.
Ajamoughli explained her dad’s response to the situation in Syria now.
“It is depression paired with excitement because this is something he wanted back in the 80s when he had to flee: Freedom for the people,” Ajamoughli said.
Jandali said he will continue fighting for peace and freedom in Syria through music.
“Can you imagine living in the revolutionary times and you have a chance to be a part of that? It’s inspiring and historic in every sense,” Jandali said. “[The children] are living happily because they are demanding freedom.
“At the end of the day it is very simple. We are born free and we should live free.”