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Refugees of Rap to Country for Syria: 6 musical acts without borders

Tahiat Mahboob

In Paris, two Palestinian siblings rap about the Syrian regime. In Berlin, a Syrian band is trying to forge goodwill between its community and native Germans. And in Brussels, a group of artists from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Tibet have come together to make their voices heard through music.

The common thread between them all? Each of these musical acts (or some of their members) have been displaced from their native country or left in search of safety and security.

On June 20, World Refugee Day, we take a look at six musical acts who are playing music despite borders — and forced displacements.

Refugees for Refugees

Moved by the scenes of migrants arriving in Europe, Belgium-based not-for-profit foundation Muziekpublique assembled a group of musicians from different regions of the world (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Tibet) who have put down roots in Belgium and who hope to make their voices heard through their music. The result: Refugees for Refugees. The group released "Amerli," a 14-track album that brings together traditional music and instruments from each artist’s background.

Khebez Dawle

Founded in Damascus, Syria, in late 2012 as Anas Maghrebi’s one-person project, Khebez Dawle (meaning “government bread”) became a full-fledged rock band in Beirut, Lebanon, in early 2013, when bass guitarist Muhammad Bazz, guitarist Bachi Darwish and keyboard player Hikmat Qassar joined. Currently based in Berlin, Khebez Dawle’s music is a blend of traditional Syrian folk music with western rock. Through it, they want to share stories of those seeking refuge.

Refugees of Rap

Brothers Yaser and Mohamed Jamous grew up officially stateless in Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, near Damascus. They formed Refugees for Rap in 2007 — before the Syrian civil war — with two other rappers in the camp: Muhammed Jawad and Ahmad Razouk. When the war broke out in 2011 and the siblings decided to leave Syria, Jawad, a Syrian citizen, "refused to leave" and Razouk, who is from Algeria, moved to Germany. The brothers arrived in Paris in 2013 and Refugees for Rap became a duo from that point on. In France, they completed and released the album The Age of Silence in 2014. Their lyrics reflect the adversities they faced growing up, and many of the songs take aim at the Syrian regime.

Tanjaret Daghet

Beirut-based rock trio Tanjaret Daghet (meaning “pressure cooker”) doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as the “Syrian band with a cause.” Formed in 2008 by Khaled Omran, Tarek Ziad Khuluki and Dani Shukri, the members resettled in Lebanon in 2011 to explore the Lebanese music industry and to avoid military service and harassment by Syrian intelligence. From Jack White to Shostakovich, they list a variety of influences. As for their own sound — rock, grunge, indie and Arabic music are all elements. But most importantly, their music aims to transcend worldly struggles and tragedy — and uplift the spirit.


It was a chance encounter on a wintry night in Berlin. Singer Abdallah Rahhal, oud player Alaa Zaitouna and guitarist Adel Sabawi, all refugees from Syria, met at a show organized by Scottish theatre producer Rachel Clarke. The idea of a band crystallized, and Musiqana (meaning “our music”) was born. The band now includes Serdar Saydan on the Arabische percussion and bassist Amjad Adam Oudeh. Musiqana plays Tarab music, a popular kind of Arabic chanson that translates to “musical ecstasy” in English. Since banding together in early 2016, Musiqana has toured throughout Germany, trying to forge goodwill between refugees and native Germans.

Country for Syria

Istanbul-based international music collective Country for Syria was co-founded by Syrian musician Bashar Balleh and American musician Owen Harris. Its other members hail from the Czech Republic, France and Turkey. Their sound blends together traditional Middle Eastern music with American country music — themes of migration, love, loneliness, longing for home, patriotism, faith and the relationships people have to their homes are common in both the country music genre and Arabic musical tradition.

In a time when Western and Middle Eastern culture are seen at opposite ends of the spectrum, Country for Syria draws on these common themes between both genres to break down stereotypes through their music.

Follow Tahiat Mahboob on Twitter: @TahiatMahboob

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