Q&A: Maria Arnaout, General Director, Damascus Opera House

The leader of the country’s central arts venue talks about the future of the space.

Maria Arnaout

Maria Arnaout

Recently, Damascus Opera House started producing its own shows and running community projects. Are you planning to move from solely being a space for arts to developing the local arts scene?

It is not really a change in our role. This has always been our aim but Damascus Opera House is still young and it is now that we have become ready to work on development projects.

We got a small grant from the Czech embassy to start an audio-visual library. We are gathering CDs and DVDs of rare music, theatre and dance performances.

The Ministry of Culture has allocated to us a car equipped with a TV filming set to be able to record our own shows. We recorded a concert by Syrian pianist Ghazwan Zerikly in which he played compositions by Franz Liszt and we will start selling copies for a reasonable price.

We’ve also produced our own shows; namely The Marriage of Figaro last season and Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini. The latter will be showing in May. We’ve also finished auditions and casting for the musical Oliver! based on the novel Oliver Twist.

There is a music project called El Sistema that Venezuela started in the 1980s to help homeless children get away from drugs, alcohol and street violence by offering them free musical instruments and tuition. Today, there are over a hundred youth orchestras in Venezuela and some of those homeless children became internationally renowned musicians. Inspired by El Sistema, I suggested that we invite Syrian orphans to perform in Oliver!. We chose 25 children from over 60 young applicants from orphanages.

Audiences are often made up primarily of intellectuals and the elite. What are you doing to expand your outreach?
We sell tickets for very reasonable prices that average Syrians can afford. Syrians can attend shows that cost hundreds of Euros abroad for very cheap prices here. Few operas around the world can boast such cheap tickets.

We are also working on raising awareness about our shows. We are planning to work together with our guest artists and organise public classes and workshops run by them for Syrian students. This way, we can raise awareness about art among everyday Syrians who are not experts in this field.

How can Damascus Opera House sustain itself financially?
We are one of the few opera houses that get governmental funds. It is a well-known fact that when a country is hit by an economic crisis, the cultural activities are always the first to suffer from a cut in the budget. The over 100-year-old Philadelphia Orchestra, for example, filed for bankruptcy protection this April. Of course, the budget allocated to Damascus Opera House cannot compare to that of other opera houses around the world, but the funds we get help us continue our work. Still, we encourage the private sector to invest. In fact, we’ve just opened the opera’s café and restaurant for investment.

How are the recent events in Syria affecting the opera house?
I believe that, under any circumstances, cultural events should continue. If we stop our cultural work, we would be taking the country backward. Therefore, the Opera House did not cancel any of its events. Those events that were cancelled were cancelled by the artists. While some were Syrian, most of the cancelled events were by foreign artists whose foreign ministries advised them to avoid travelling to Syria due to the current situation. However, our other events this month were well attended.

Will any big names perform in the opera this year?

We’ll host a Russian ballet performance on ice in December. This will be the first event of its kind in Syria. They’ll perform Swan Lake and the Nutcracker.

This article was published in Syria Today magazine.

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Syria’s Soprano (profile of Syrian singer Dima Orsho)

Singer Dima Orsho fuses western and eastern traditions, making a name for herself both at home and abroad.   

Dima Orsho / photo by Kais Zakaria

 Dressed in jeans and a light blouse with her hair casually tied back, Dima Orsho looks nothing like the stereotype of an opera singer. The easygoing and youthful appearance that she and the other members of the Hewar ensemble radiate captivated their Syrian audience as they swung to the group’s eclectic music when they performed in Syria at a jazz concert in 2008.

Orsho, who performs both solo and with the band Hewar, has a musical style that reflects her multicultural background. She and Hewar blend Oriental sounds with elements of jazz, scat, opera and classical music, woven with non-verbal vocalisations by Orsho.  She uses her voice as a third instrument to accompany her Syrian colleagues, Kinan Azmeh on clarinet and Essam Rafea on oud.

“Hewar [Arabic for dialogue] is based on the principle of musical dialogue where we can say what we can’t express in words,” Orsho said.

A cultural blend

The lyrical soprano in her thirties said she refuses to be relegated to one genre.

“Just because I’m an opera singer, it does not mean that I should not sing oriental,” Orsho said in a phone conversation with Syria Today from the Chicago home where she currently lives with her husband and child. “I like to try different things and that is exactly what we try to do with Hewar. We enjoy experimenting and working together and I think that the positive energy created by that joy is always radiated to our audience.”

The search for something different drove Orsho to travel to the US in 2005 for graduate studies in opera performance at the Boston Conservatory.

Orsho had previously studied opera performance and clarinet at the Damascus High Institute of Music and attended singing classes in Maastricht Conservatory in the Netherlands. However, she found the courses too specific. 


“Opera performance studies in the US are more comprehensive,” she said. “I didn’t only want to learn how to sing but also how to stand on stage, how to act and how to direct a musical.”

Dima Orsho and Kinan Azmeh at the Library of Congress 2010

Stiff competition

Orsho, however, said her time in the US was not always easy.

“Studying abroad was one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. It was a tough time for me since I had to catch up with a more complicated and intensive curriculum,” Orsho said. 

The competitive atmosphere in the US also makes it more difficult for musicians to distinguish themselves, she added.

“Each year thousands of musicians graduate from conservatories and music schools all around the US while in Syria only a handful of musicians graduate annually, which makes opportunities in the US very competitive, especially for non-Americans in general and Arabs in particular.”

Still, Orsho succeeded in making an international name for herself as a Syrian singer. She has performed in professional productions at the Boston Conservatory and at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

In 2008, Orsho released her first solo album, Arabic Lieder, in which she sings to compositions by renowned Syrian pianist Gaswan Zerikly and incorporates lyrics from distinguished Arabic poems from Mahmoud Darwish and others. 

Music compositions

Although Orsho is primarily known as a singer, she says the idea of becoming one did not cross her mind until her second year as a clarinet player at the High Institute of Music.

“My teacher Victor Babenko advised me to switch from clarinet to singing. He believed in my vocal and musical abilities.”

Since she was a teen, Orsho wanted to study composition. However, back in 1993 when she started her studies at Damascus High Institute of Music, there were only three curriculums: clarinet, piano and singing.

“I didn’t have many options back then. I wish I had then the opportunities I have now in the US. It’s too late now to start all over again and study composing” Orsho said.

Nevertheless, Orsho occasionally composes her own music for films and theatre performances. Some of her most famous compositions include the soundtrack for the 2005 film Under the Ceiling by Syrian director Nidal al-Dibs and Darkest Times, a mimic theatre performance directed by Syrian dancer and choreographer Noura Murad. She is currently composing the music to which the Syrian dance group Leish Troup will perform in December.

Meanwhile, she is busy recording Hewar’s third album, which will be released in Germany and Damascus by the end of the year. Twenty-four hours each day does not give her enough time to accomplish all the musical feats she would like to achieve, she said: I wish I had more time, there are so many things I’d love to do.”

This article was published in Syria Today magazine.  

Hip Hop Syrian Style

A group of nine hip hop artists have produced Cross Words, Syria’s first rap album. I had a quick chat with the album’s producer and composer Badeeh Issa and singer Khaled Arnaout to find out more.

 Sham MCs is the first Syrian band to play rap, a kind of music completely alien to the Syrian music scene. Why rap?

 There is a rap community in Syria. It’s just that many Syrian rappers do rap American-style with subjects that are alien to Syrian society. We have been working hard to create rap Syrian-style with a mixture of Eastern and rai music, among others. We also mix Arabic and English into our lyrics that tackle subjects Syrians can sympathise with.

But many of your songs portray a less familiar face of Syria; that of posh girls, BMWs and clubbing. To what extent do you think this represents Syria?

We don’t want to talk about the same subjects everybody else does. Rather, we talk about the small details people tend to forget. We want to get to the core of Syrian society, away from the stereotyped clichés. This includes a lot of criticism. Rap is not the kind of music that relaxes you. Rather, it prods you, teases you and perhaps makes you happy.

You’ve just released your first album and held several concerts. How have people responded?

Within two weeks of the album’s release around 400 copies were sold. We were pretty nervous before the concerts, but the audience’s response has been great. Not only did they like the concert, some of them already knew the lyrics and were singing along with us. Nevertheless, we still have many challenges ahead. People think hip hop is only for the young, but we want to reach a much wider audience. And I believe if people overcome their prejudice they might very well enjoy it.

 To find out more log on to http://www.shammcs.com or phone 0988 291 018

This Q&A was published in Syria Today magazine.

United in Songs

Husam al-Din Brimo, founder of the country’s first choral society, has given an age-old musical form a distinct Syrian tone.

United in Song

Photos Carole al-Farah

As a child, Husam al-Din Brimo couldn’t wait for Sunday to come around – and it wasn’t only because it was a holiday from school. Rather, he loved to sing in his church’s choir. In fact, he was so keen on choral music that after finishing his studies at the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus, the young graduate took off for France and Switzerland to meet professional choir singers and study his favourite art form up close and personal.

“France and Switzerland have a long history in choral music,” Brimo, now 47, said. “After travelling there I understood that singing in a choir is more than just opening my mouth and singing; it’s a very complicated art form.”

With that in mind, Brimo returned to Syria in 1999 and started an independent project to promote choir singing in the country. Since that time, he has focused his energies on teaching choral music to both amateur and professional singers and also established a number of small choirs.

Fast forward nine years and Brimo is the proud choir master of Luna, the country’s first choral society. The society is made up of five choirs – Sana (Glory), Alwan (Colours), Kaws Kuzah (Rainbow), Ward (Rose) and Cham (Damascus) – with singers ranging from three to 60 years old, split into groups according to age. Brimo has also put together a group of 50 musicians to accompany them.

“When I joined Luna six years ago I knew virtually nothing about choral music,” Rahaf Rseys, 14, said. “Singing in the choir has changed my life. It has helped me express myself better. In Luna there are choirs for singers up to 60 years old and I want to continue singing until I get into the last choir.”

Musical fusion

In addition to performing classical Western choir music, the society also sings Arabic songs in their traditional style or in European arrangements. “I want children and adults to be open to other cultures, this is why I find it very important that the Luna choirs present songs from all over the globe with each song in its native language,” Brimo said.

Religious coexistence is another important theme running through Brimo’s project. As such, he has added both Christian and Muslim songs to the choirs’ must-sing repertoire. The sight of young Muslim and Christian singers in the Kaws Kuzah choir rehearsing Islamic songs in St. Carlos Church in Kassa, a suburb of Damascus, speaks to the success of Brimo’s dream.

It is this message of universal tolerance which resonates among Syrians of all backgrounds. “When I first heard about the Luna choral society in a local newspaper I immediately searched for Brimo and enrolled my children in the Sana choir,” Nisreen al-Zaher, a mother of two young choir members, said. “For me, the social quality of the choir is as important as the musical one. I want my children to learn that they are not the centre of the world and that other people exist as well. Luna teaches just that.”

At a recent concert performed by the Alwan choir at the Damascus Opera House, the audience sang along with the seven to 13-year-old choir members as they performed much-loved songs by Lebanon’s Rahbani brothers.

“I loved the show,” a middle-aged woman in the audience said. “It’s so great hear Syrian choirs performing Arab songs instead of listening to the usual European chorales.”

Slow success

The standing ovation Alwan choir received at the Opera House is a long way from Brimo’s early days of promoting choir singing in Syria. Back in 1999, when he founded the first Luna choir, Kaws Kuza, its 20 founding members sang for free and had to fund their own concerts.

“Chorale singing isn’t a local art form,” Brimo said. “Lacking any history in chorale singing, Syrians have traditionally had little interest, if any, in this art form. This is why it has been so challenging to promote choral music, not only audience-wise but even among the singers themselves.”

These days Luna performs regularly – last year the group held 30 concerts – earning enough from ticket sales to pay the singers. The troupe also has a dedicated local following, all but ensuring its future success. Some ambitions, however, will have to remain on hold. Brimo would love to record an album of the Alwan choir performing original material, but a lack of funds and rampant music piracy have turned him off the idea.

“If I had an extra couple of million Syrian pounds that I’d be willing to throw away I might consider recording an album,” Brimo said. “But CD piracy in Syria means it’s almost impossible to make any profits. Such a poor investment would mean the end of the Luna choirs.”

The Luna Choral Society
The Luna choral society is made up of five choirs. Singers range from three to 60 years old and are split into five groups according to age. A group of 50 musicians accompanies them. The choirs are: 

  • Sana (Glory) for children aged 3 to 6.
  • Alwan (Colours) for children aged 7 to 13. The choir performs international songs in their original language.
  • Ward (Rose) for teenagers aged 14 to 18. The choir performs classical Western songs.
  • Kaws Kuzah (Rainbow) for professional choral music singers.
  • Cham (Damascus) for 18 to 60-year-old amateur singers. The choir performs classical Arabic songs.
  • Nada (Dew) a group of musicians that accompanies.

This article was published in Syria Today magazine

Record Busters (Copyright in Syria)

Syrian musicians continue to struggle to protect their intellectual property.

Lena Chamamyan

Lena Chamamyan

Photos Adel Samara

“I have no rights over my own work,” Lena Chamamyan, one of Syria’s most acclaimed jazz singers, said. “I’m not just talking about general copyright protection. I can’t even claim the credit for my own album because it has been stolen and registered under another person’s name.”

Since recording her first album Hal Asmar Ellon (The Brown Boy) in 2006, Chamamyan, like many other musicians in Syria, has found herself locked in an ongoing struggle with the country’s lucrative piracy business. Despite Syria’s Intellectual Property Protection Law, issued in 2001, prohibiting the copying and sale of an artist’s material without their consent, unauthorised CDs – sometimes without the artist’s name even accredited to them – continue to flood the local market.

While those who break the law potentially face up to two years imprisonment and a penalty of SYP 100,000 (USD 2,105), professionals in the music industry claim a lack of mechanisms for enforcing copyright protection has allowed the piracy market to continue profiting at their expense, largely unhindered.

Dubious contracts

Chamamyan’s problems started in 2006 when she contracted an agent to reproduce and distribute her award-winning album in Syria. After signing the contract, Chamamyan followed procedures and registered it at Syria’s Directorate of Copyrights, the body responsible for registering music contracts and informing musicians about their rights.

Instead of reproducing the album under Chamamyan’s name, however, the rogue agent sold the singer’s attribution rights on the album to a third party. The deal was finalised in black and white in a contract which, to Chamamyan’s surprise, was registered and filed away without question at the directorate.

“This is crazy,” she said. “I’ve registered my album all over the world, even in the Comoros, but it’s only in my home country that I can’t claim credit for my own album.”

After reading through the contract, Yahya Naddaf, manager of the Directorate of Copyrights, admitted its terms violate the law.

“The attribution rights can’t be sold, not even by the author himself,” he said. “This contract is ridiculous.”

Yet, Naddaf maintained the directorate was not at fault for registering the contract. He said the body was duty-bound to tell artists about their rights concerning copyright protection, but bore no responsibility for ensuring that contracts complied with the Intellectual Property Protection Law.

“It’s not our job at the directorate to check the contracts and solve issues regarding ownership and attribution,” he said. “The directorate is only responsible for informing the artists about their rights and registering their work.”

Lack of enforcement

The directorate has no legal body or mechanisms in place to follow up on suspected copyright violations. Consequently, issues arising over intellectual property disputes should be taken up in court, Naddaf said.

“Why should a singer have to go to court to reclaim their right of attribution when, according to Syrian law, it can’t be taken or sold in the first place?” Basel Rajoub, saxophonist and musical composer on Hal Asmar Ellon, said. “Why did the directorate accept an illegal contract of sale anyway?”

While breaches of Syria’s copyright protection laws are commonplace throughout the country – record shops are full of pirated CDs on sale at knock-off prices – recording artists are reluctant to take their cases to court because of the notoriously slow, bureaucratic process.

“It’s not like we are asking for a washing machine that will still work after four years of litigation,” Rajoub said. “By the time the case comes up for review, the album will be long forgotten by the audience.”

Recording artists are not the only ones to be affected by the lack of mechanisms for implementing Syria’s Intellectual Property Protection Law in the music industry. Damascus-based music producer Ahmad Sunduk forked out SYP 712,500 (USD 15,000) to make two albums four years ago, but has yet to profit from the investment because cheaper pirated copies of his music are easily available throughout the country. Like Rajoub, Sunduk is reluctant to go to court.

“It’s not my job to search for every retailer that copied my album, sue him and then wait for a year or more until a judgment is made,” he said. “By then copies of the album will already have spread throughout the market.”

Lobbying government

Tahany Sinjab, founder of Syria’s first record company Majal, tried to solve the problem of illegal pirating by providing music shops in Syria with a higher profit margin on the sale of original CDs by local artists. The company sold its CDs to retailers for SYP 200 (USD 4.20) and asked retailers to sell them for SYP 250 (USD 5.30), offering retailers prone to counterfeiting a profit of SYP 50 (USD 1.10). The plan failed to penetrate the market, however, and illegal copies continued to sell. Less than two years after it was established, Majal went bankrupt in early 2008.

Not deterred by the failure of Majal, Sunduk recently launched Mais al-Reem, a new Syrian record company. Banding together with some of the country’s most acclaimed musicians, the company is lobbying the directorate for the strict implementation of the Intellectual Property Rights Law.

Naddaf said the directorate “welcomes all requests”. He added that a new draft law for the establishment of a special committee charged with monitoring illegal pirating activities and implementing Syria’s copyright protection laws is under consideration. Just when the committee will start operating, however, is uncertain, with Naddaf estimating that it could take up to two or three years to get off the ground.

“In the end, if I lose too much money I’ll close my company and start a new business,” Sunduk said. “The only loser here is the Syrian music scene.”

For more information about Mais al-Reem log on to www.alkhaimeh.com.

This article was published in Syria Today magazine

Protecting Intellectual Property
As well as the Intellectual Property Protection Law of 2001, Syria is also a signatory to various international intellectual property rights protection agreements, such as the 1961 Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations, and the 1971 Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

Playing his own Tune

Listening to Omar Bashir in concert is like taking a whistle-stop musical journey around the world. “In two hours, I can take the audience with my oud from Turkey to Iraq, pass through Syria and Morocco and then enter Spain and Hungary before touching down in France,” Bashir said.

DSC_0536

Omar Bashir

Bashir attributes the cross-cultural influences in his music to his family background; he is the son of a Hungarian mother and his Iraqi father is the celebrated oud player Mounir Bashir. It’s an upbringing which gave him a privileged insight into two different cultures. “I feel lucky because I come from Iraq, the cradle of most musical scales and keys and I also come from Hungary which boasts a great musical history,” Bashir said.

Music – the oud in particular – runs deep in the Bashir family. Along with his father, Bashir’s uncle is also a noted oud musician. Rather than just following in their considerable footsteps, however, Bashir has taken his music one step further by mixing oriental sounds with classical, Latin, Spanish, Indian and Gypsy tunes. “I wanted to show the world that the oud is capable of playing and improvising with any Western folk musical instrument from Japan to America because it has a rich musical history,” he said.

Bashir has travelled around the world spending several months in China, Japan, India and Spain studying the folk music of each country. He even lived with Spanish gypsies for eight months to study flamenco. “This was a very important experience because the gypsies are the people who play real flamenco, but they don’t allow anyone easily into their lives,” he said.

Under Rotana Records, Bashir’s album The Latin Oud rose to number six in the Arab music charts. The album’s unique sound soon attracted attention from outside the Arab world and Bashir went on to sign a contract for the same album with EMI, an international music label with stars such as Michael Jackson and Madonna on its list. Another album, The Civilizations’ Voice, combined Iraqi keys with Indian violins. When DJs remixed the tracks on the album, Bashir’s oud introduced new sounds into the world of techno and house music.

The world-famous French group, The Gipsy Kings, are such fans of his music that they allowed him to adapt one of their songs to put on his album for free. “I rewrote the song on my oud and asked them for the rights,” Bashir said. “When they heard it they said it was an honour to have their song on my album.”

With 18 albums out on the market and numerous concerts sold out all over the world, Bashir is taking the international music scene by storm. He regrets, however, that a form of “music prostitution” is developing in the Arab entertainment industry, whereby production companies are increasingly forsaking the value of good music for quick profits. Bashir believes that the commercial songs flooding the radio and TV stations today are drugging the younger generation like morphine. “It’s a war against culture,” he said. “When a war destroys a country, you can rebuild the houses and infrastructure, but when it destroys the minds and tastes of a whole generation, it takes at least two generations to recover.”

Whilst production companies claim they are only responding to the market’s demands, Bashir believes that people still enjoy listening to non-commercial music; they just need a chance to hear it. “When Rotana produced my album it proved a bestseller, overcoming the famous Lebanese singer Alissa,” he explained.

Bashir explained that a lack of sophisticated auditoriums boasting decent acoustics in the Middle East causes many problems for Arab musicians when they perform in concert. In addition, the shortage of workshops for making fine-quality instruments today further limits their performances. “There’s a tendency towards singing rather than instrumental music in the Arab world, that’s disastrous because music comes from here,” he said.

Bashir also believes that the West seems to appreciate Arab art more than Arabs themselves. He explained that unbeknown to many, Western music scales and keys actually originate from the East. Furthermore, Bashir claims that many Western instruments were born out of the Eastern oud, zither, rebec and flute. He also referred to a French study which concludes that the oud is the origin of all musical instruments in the world.

Today, the Bashir family’s music is renowned in the West. Bashir’s music is even used to treat prisoners suffering from depression in New York’s biggest prison, whilst his father’s music is used at a hospital in Switzerland as therapy for expectant mothers and their babies.

This year, Bashir has already performed six concerts in Spain, France, Hungary and Morocco. He is also set to perform in Syria as part of Damascus as Arab Capital of Culture 2008.

Bashir explains that despite the high acclaim he has received throughout his career, his father’s recognition has meant the most to him. “My father never praised me,” he explains. “He always concentrated on my points of weakness. It was only a month before he passed away, after my flamenco concert, that he told me that I was great and he would not guide me anymore. He consigned the oud to me and I want to live up to it.”

This article was published in Syria Today magazine.

Rocking the Arabic Way (profile of Syrian musician Anas Abd al-Moumen)

Words Nadia Muhanna

rocking-the-arabic-way

While other fourth-graders were nervously leafing through their notes on their way to the exam, Anas Abd al-Moumen was grooving to the rhythm of the latest Metallica album. Already at the age of nine, he was obsessed with rock music and played the guitar. Today, at 28, he has founded two rock bands and released his first album on the Syrian market.

Together with other Syrian musicians, Abd al-Moumen wants to create a new musical genre in Syria: Arabic rock. “Why should we only listen to Western rock? Why can’t we have our own rock music that reflects us in the same way that Western rock reflects the West?” Abd al-Moumen asked.

Not all Syrians feel the same about rock and heavy metal though, and Abd al-Moumen believes the genre is misunderstood in many Arab countries. “Rock music has been misjudged for a while,” he said, explaining that some associate it with Satanism and devil worship. “But as more rock groups perform in Syria, people are starting to understand it better.”

Prejudice isn’t the only problem facing young musicians. The absence of an established music industry and the unparalleled level of piracy in Syria make music production a costly venture with little profit. In addition, major production companies and radio channels are mostly interested in commercial music. “They say there is no public interest in high-quality music,” Abd al-Moumen said. “That’s not true. They should give the public a chance to listen to other kinds of music and leave them to judge for themselves.”

Abd al-Moumen believes that Syrian audiences have a taste for good music. He says that even in remote villages, where there is no musical education, people prefer Fairouz to commercial music. “We have the talent to produce and the audience to listen. We need what’s in between!”

After founding his own band, Anas & Friends, Abd al-Moumen produced his first album, Mahjour (Abandoned), at his own expense in 2006. The album, which deals with young Syrians’ everyday problems, has been labeled ‘alternative’ and ‘elite’.

Abd al-Moumen believes that rock never was elitist and rejects the idea of alternative music altogether. “We’re not an alternative and we don’t want to push anyone off the music scene,” he said. “We just offer the audience other choices.”

The ‘alternative’ bands and singers were finally given the chance to showcase their talent in 2006 during the government-sponsored Shabab Souria (Syria’s Youth) festival. The young musicians toured Aleppo, Lattakia, Tartous and Damascus and drew thousands of music lovers.

“It was an amazing experience,” Abd al-Moumen said. “In order to reach audiences, we need the media to give us the first push. Shabab Souria was an important step towards that.”

He admits, however, that much more needs to be done. Young musicians need stages to perform on, and media support and sponsors to reach out to their audiences.

Given these tough circumstances, Abd al-Moumen knew it would be almost impossible to live from high-quality music in Syria. This is why he studied media instead of music at university. “I never wanted music to become my profession,” he explained. “If music were my only source of income, I would have to compromise the quality of my work.”

As a media graduate, Abd al-Moumen is now preparing an MBA and works at an oil company to make ends meet. “I could take the easy way out,” he said. “I could write a light song and make a flashy video clip. If you have the right networking skills, it’s the easiest way to fame and wealth. But for me, music isn’t about money, it’s about passion.”

Abd al-Moumen is currently working on a new album, this time with another band called Gene. While they know that they have a long way to go, the six band members remain very enthusiastic about the album, which they hope to release this summer. “When you believe in your talent, it’s your duty to express it! We want to demonstrate the musical variety in Syria. Hand in hand we’ll reach our goal.”

This article was published in Syria Today magazine.