Conflict & Justice

Syrian Composer Malek Jandali's Arab Spring Inspired Song

For pianist and composer Malek Jandali, the Arab Spring is a personal matter.

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Jandali lives in Atlanta. But he was born in Germany to Syrian parents, and grew up in Homs. That's one of the cities at the heart of the rebellion in Syria, against President Bashar al Assad's regime.

A year ago, Jandali was scheduled to perform in Egypt, at the Cairo Opera House. But rising protests there caused the performances to be cancelled.

So Jandali headed to Syria instead, to visit Damascus and his family in Homs. He says the tension there was palpable. "Everybody was glued to their TVs watching the Egyptian revolution, and the result of the Tunisian revolution," he said, "and anticipating what is next. 'Is it the domino effect that's going to reach Syria?' And obviously here we are."

Back home in Atlanta, Jandali heard about an incident that helped galvanize anti-government protests in Syria. It involved 15 children who were arrested and allegedly tortured in the city of Dara'a – for writing slogans on walls calling for an end to the Assad regime.

Their story, as well as other stories from the Arab Spring, inspired Jandali to write a song, "Watani Ana" or, "I am my homeland." But that song caused much trouble for Jandali's family back in Syria last March. Four days after Jandali performed it at a peaceful rally in support of the Syrian revolution in front of the White House in Washington, DC, his parents were brutally beaten by government security forces. They survived the attack, and Jandali helped them leave Syria later on. They are now living with him in Atlanta.

Then last summer, Jandali, like many Syrians, was shocked by the news of the violent death of fire-fighter Ibrahim Qashoush.

Qashoush was a protester who had come up with a catchy chant at anti-government rallies. Jandali says the chant, "Go away Bashar" took on a life of its own, and has since been repeated at protests around the Arab world. But last July, Qashoush met a violent death. His body was found in a river near Homs, his throat slit and his vocal cords ripped out.

Jandali says he believes government security forces did this "for the entire nation to witness, and for artists to fear any opposition, or any composition, or any artistic expression against the government." He called Qashoush "a true artist."

As brutal as Qashoush's fate was, Jandali turned the late fire-fighter's contribution to the Syrian revolution into a work of art. The composer used the melodic pattern of the chant, and wove it into a piece called "Freedom–The Qashouh Symphony."

Those pieces are included in a new CD, "Emessa" (the ancient name for the city of Homs), which Jandali will release next month.

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