14.05.2016 - UNESCO Office in Beirut

Syrian experts unite at UNESCO to preserve Syrian traditional music

During the meeting at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris © UNESCO 2016

Syria’s rich cultural and religious blend has been historically the source of a wide variety of musical traditions in the country. As the Syrian conflict aggravates leading to deplorable human losses, massive displacements, and damages and destructions of important archeological sites and monuments, six of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites, the country’s intangible cultural heritage continues to suffer. Music is particularly affected by the crisis.

With the aim of enhancing the safeguarding of Syrian traditional musics, UNESCO organized a one-day first aid support meeting for Syrian musicians and music experts in Paris on Friday 13 May 2016. The meeting was organized within the framework of UNESCO’s Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage project, funded by the European Union and supported by the Flemish Government and the Government of Austria.

It brought together seven leading musicians and music experts from different cultural backgrounds and various regions of Syria, with representatives from the International Music Council, UNESCO specialized staff and UNESCO institutional partners. Participants shared their personal experiences in the meeting and discussed mechanisms to ensure the transmission and preservation of Syrian traditional musics in spite of the current crisis situation.

“Traditional musics are often oral traditions, transmitted from generation to generation through families or community ties,” said Mechtild Rössler, director of Heritage Division and Director of the World Heritage Centre, at the opening of the meeting. “This heritage moves with its carriers, and when they fall victim to atrocities of war, transmission is disrupted and much of the related knowledge and skills disappear, as individuals turn their focus to simple survival.”

Hassan Abbas, a leading Syrian scholar and expert on Syrian cultural heritage, spoke on the incredible diversity of Syrian traditional musics from liturgical music of various Christian rites to Muslim Sufi practices and dances and on the traditions of cultural groups like Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens, Circassians, Armenians and Assyrians.

“Syrian society was very vivid,” Abbas said. “During work and leisure time, moments of joy and sorrow, traditional musics accompanied all aspects of social life.” Following the crisis, Syria’s musical traditions are under “serious threat” because of exodus and the daily urge to survive but also the destruction in most Syrian cities of structures and institutions connected with traditional musics like shops of instrument manufacturers and places of social gathering.

Fawaz Baker, a Syrian oud musician and composer, spoke about support for the manufacturing of traditional music instruments like the Oud and the Qanoun and their dissemination in refugee camps where Syrian children can learn how to play these instruments.

Experts discussed the need for financial support to record and conserve traditional musics in a pedagogic and systematic way.

Stressing that music helps in bringing together Syrians from different cultural groups in the country, Nouri Askandar, an Assyrian Syrian musicologist and composer, said that promoting and preserving traditional musics would bolster creativity of young and future generations. “Music creates a miraculous space of cohesion,” he said.

For Khaled Al Jaramani, a Syrian musician specialized in Oud, music is a vector that reflects sincerely the collective consciousness of people. He stressed on the importance of archiving music and recording orally-transmitted songs, like for example music from Soueida, with available voices.

UNESCO was called to support the mobility of Syrian artists all over the world; the recording and identification of existing recordings on the variety of Syrian music and to secure them in safe places; the training opportunities, for Syrians, young and adults; the creation of music schools-also in refugees’ camps-and of databases related to Syrian music-instruments’ manufacturing, teachers, projects, etc.; and the establishment of a network of Syrian musicians, especially because of their displacement.

Syrian participants: Hassan Abbas, Khaled Al Jaramani, Nouri Askandar, Abed Azrié, Fawaz Baker, Lena Chamamyan, Ibrahim Keivo, Gani Mirzo.

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