Syr­ian bands rock Beirut’s al­ter­na­tive mu­sic scene


Syr­ian rock bands flee­ing war are find­ing safety and new fans in neigh­bor­ing Le­banon, where they are re­vi­tal­iz­ing a West­ern­ized scene with their fo­cus on Ara­bic mu­si­cal her­itage.

Dozens of Syr­ian bands and in­de­pen­dent artists have now be­come main­stays of the Beirut mu­sic scene, per­form­ing emo­tive and of­ten bleak songs in front of con­cert-go­ers ea­ger for fresh faces.

In a bright Beirut apart­ment, two mem­bers of Khe­bez Dawle, an al­ter­na­tive rock band from Da­m­as­cus, prac­tise sur­rounded by freshly hung laun­dry, balls of yarn and cups of tea.

“You’re still alive, un­der the siege?” sings Anas Maghrebi, the band’s lead singer, in their song “Ayesh,” which means alive in Ara­bic.

“You loved and you grew up. You spent your life sav­ings on a house — and now that house is gone. And you’re still alive.”

Syria’s four-year-old con­flict has left more than 220,000 peo­ple dead and has forced mil­lions, in­clud­ing artists and mu­si­cians, to flee to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.

Many civil­ians in Syria live in ar­eas be­sieged by the regime or armed groups, cut­ting off their ac­cess to food and med­i­cal aid.

While some Syr­ian artists sing about ev­ery­day chal­lenges and so­ci­etal pres­sures, many use their mu­sic to talk about their ex­pe­ri­ences of war.

Khe­bez Dawle — the Ara­bic term for Syria’s ubiq­ui­tous state-sub­si­dized bread — say their self-ti­tled first al­bum, re­leased in De­cem­ber, at­tempts to give a young man’s “nar­ra­tive of what hap­pened in Syria.”

“We just tell the story as if we’re telling it to a friend,” Maghrebi tells AFP.

Khe­bez Dawle have much to re­count about Syria’s war, which they fled in 2013, a year af­ter a fel­low band mem­ber was killed.

‘No pres­sure in Beirut’

They say ar­riv­ing to the safety of Bei- rut breathed new life into the band af­ter their friend’s death.

“The main thing that al­lowed us to start up again was that we were in Beirut. Half the prob­lem was gone,” Maghrebi says.

In con­trast to Syria, where they faced vi­o­lence and few venues, stu­dios or op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth, rock bands see Beirut as an in­cu­ba­tor for their tal­ents.

“When we came to Beirut, and we saw that there’s no pres­sure here, we said we want to take ad­van­tage of ev­ery­thing. Ev­ery­thing we couldn’t have in Syria, we want to have here,” says Bashar Dar­wish, Khe­bez Dawle’s gui­tarist.

In Le­banon, Syr­ian mu­si­cians have made con­nec­tions with pro­duc­ers, film­mak­ers, venue own­ers and fi­nanciers.

Mem­bers of Syria’s Tan­jaret Daghet, Ara­bic for pres­sure cooker, left Syria for Le­banon in 2011.

While prac­tis­ing in their clut­tered sin­gle-room un­der­ground stu­dio one day, the band got a sur­prise visit from their Le­banese neigh­bor.

But in­stead of ask­ing them to turn their mu­sic down, Raed al-Khazen com­pli­mented Tan­jaret Daghet on their hard rock sounds and their pro­ducer.

“The op­por­tu­nity that th­ese guys got here, they would have never got­ten in Syria,” says Khazen.

“The Le­banese scene gave them the free­dom to ex­press them­selves, be­cause we’re more open, be­cause we lis­ten, be­cause we have venues where they can play.”

even­tu­ally be­came

‘Ex­am­ple for Le­banese’

The Syr­ian bands are now a regular sight at Le­banese un­der­ground venues, where they say high-en­ergy au­di­ences have en­cour­aged them.

“The au­di­ence here helped us out a lot be­cause they’re will­ing to pay for a ticket to come see some­one who writes their own mu­sic,” says Tarek Khu­luki, gui­tarist for Tan­jaret Daghet.

“We met so many peo­ple here who opened up our minds and made us say, why not?” says Khaled Omran, the band’s lead singer and song­writer.

Hisham Jaber, artis­tic direc­tor at the Metro Al Mad­ina venue that has hosted sev­eral Syr­ian acts, says the new ar­rivals have re­vived Le­banon’s “stag­nant” un­der­ground scene.


Lead singer and bass gui­tarist Khaled Omran, right, elec­tric gui­tarist Tarek Khu­luki, cen­ter, and drum­mer Dani Shukri of Syr­ian band, Tan­jaret Daghet, from Da­m­as­cus, pose with their al­bum in the Le­banese cap­i­tal Beirut on March 24.

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