Malek Jandali on art and freedom in Syria

Ati Metwaly, Tuesday 11 Oct 2011

Syrian pianist and composer talks to Ahram Online about the role of artists in his country's fight for democracy and how his own parents were brutally beaten by Assad's thugs

Malek Jandali

Born in Germany to Syrian parents in 1972, Malek Jandali is an award-winning composer and pianist. In his compositions, he integrates Arabic maqams, or modes, with Western harmonies, and embraces the great diversity of his international background and influences. Malek currently resides in Atlanta and is a member of the Recording Academy and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

As a performer, Jandali has toured the world and in 2009 held a concert at the Cairo Opera House.

Today, Jandali’s name is not only connected with his music and worldwide successes, but recently joined a long list of Syrian artist directly affected by the Syrian regime, which is persistently trying to suffocate pro-democratic protesters and annihilate signs of opposition beyond the country’s borders.

The art world was shaken by news in August that Ali Farzat had been brutally beaten for publishing anti-Assad cartoons.

At the end of September, Malek Jandali’s elderly parents were beaten a few days after he had participated in a pro-democracy rally for Syria in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. Jandali performed the Syrian national anthem and premiered Watani Ana (My Country), and hundreds of attendees sang along in solidarity with the Syrian people.

“I composed Watani Ana to support all people, anytime, anywhere, in their noble, peaceful quest for liberty and human rights,” Jandali comments to Ahram Online. 

“When this regime realised that they could not stop the universal message of peace and humanity, they resorted to violence against my family. My parents had to flee Syria for their own safety, and they are now recovering in the US with me. Our extended family is still at risk from this brutal regime, which has made it clear that even the extended families of activists are at risk of torture, persecution and even murder.” 

Moreover, Jandali and his family continue to receive menacing phone calls, death threats, and intimidating messages via email and Facebook.

Jandali underlines that it is not just about his parents, Ali Farzat or other artists. “Every day, brave people in Syria are faced with atrocities and crimes that are much more vicious than the attack on my parents. The kidnapping, torture and murder of thousands of innocent civilians, including women, children and even babies, are nothing short of a crime against humanity. This regime has proven to the world that it is incapable of true, meaningful dialogue and reform, and is prepared to eradicate any semblance of opposition, even peaceful demonstrations.”

Jandali made his name outside his home country and expresses sorrow that even prior to the current events all Syrian artists were limited in one way or another by the government which controls all aspects of the arts and media. Understandably, this strategy restricts the advancement of artists and results in what Jandali calls “a hollow, fictitious art.” 

“We lack true, free artistic expression. In short, when there is no freedom, there is no true art. ”

Art is about beauty, truth and freedom, he added.

“My role is to spread the message of peace, harmony and love through music. I have the responsibility to ensure that the voice of the people is being heard, and is not tainted with fear or oppression. The Syrian people have taught me and the world a lesson in courage, especially those who have sacrificed their lives while chanting for freedom.”

In the midst of all the atrocities, Jandali believes that the beat of freedom is unstoppable; it is no longer possible to silence the voice of the Syrian people.

“No peaceful revolution in modern history has ever failed, and Syria will triumph by the will of the people. The Arab Spring reached Syria, and dictatorship, in any form, will no longer be tolerated in the region. The Assad regime has already collapsed and lost legitimacy with the Syrian people and the world at large.” 

“Music is a universal language that unites all people,” comments Jandali, observing that Syria is already witnessing an increase in artistic expression, especially in music and songs.

“Soon we will be hearing the music of celebration and victory, and I look forward to sharing my music in a more beautiful and free Syria.” 

“My journey will continue in my next album Emessa (the Roman name of the city of Homs), which will reflect the historical events of the peaceful Syrian revolution, especially in my hometown of Homs,” JandaIi concluded.

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