Malek Jandali: An Ode to Revolt

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Jandali demands freedom and nothing less than the elimination of censorship. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Ahmad Mohsen

Published Wednesday, May 30, 2012

One thing concerns Malek Jandali these days: Homs. The Syrian composer, who lives in the United States, misses his hometown. He dedicated his new album to his city by giving it the title Emessa, Homs' ancient Roman name.

Jandali (b. 1972) knows the city's history well, mentioning that five Roman emperors withdrew from Homs. He knows its alleyways like his fingers know their way around the keys of a piano. He prefers to first be introduced as a pianist, although he is famous as a composer.

His classical musical don't seem to fit with his feelings on the Syrian situation. Jandali is angry. He does not see a role for Syrian artists in the movements against the regime, although they are "the primary benefactors of its results."

Jandali demands freedom and nothing less than the elimination of censorship. In his view dictatorship and censorship are twins; and Jandali counts on the fall of the former to get rid of the latter.

He is not afraid of the Islamists at all. In his criticism of the Syrian regime, he talks about "canonized Islam, which has much more history than the present."

He mentions the Abbasid-era Muslim musician, Ziryab, who established the "first school of musical science in Europe." Jandali is pleased that the Abbasid rule did not destroy the old arts.

During a recent interview with al-Akhbar in Qatar – at the Doha Debates that discussed the issue of censorship of the arts in the Arab world – Jandali was "more confident than ever about the collapse of the regime."

He laughs and his eyes sparkle when asked which musicians played with him on his latest album. "The Russian Philharmonic Orchestra," says the musician, adding that they recorded the tracks in the studios of the state radio and television building in Moscow, which he supposes is a "government institution."

Jandali, composer of Echoes from Ugarit, says that musicians should not follow their governments; it should be the other way around.

But then he remembers, "One can separate between religion and the state, but you cannot separate art and state." Thus, he finds himself "in the heart of the revolution."

Jandali does not see his Freedom Qashoush Symphony – named after the Syrian protest songwriter Ibrahim Qashoush, who was killed and had his throat cut and vocal cords ripped out – as a personal choice he made to support the popular Syrian movement against the regime.

He says that Qashoush's voice imposed itself on everyone and constituted a new birth in Syrian art. Everyone handled it in their own way. Jandali "composed music for it and the regime ripped it out," he says.

Jandali personally went to the music shops and picked out the instruments that he used in the video, "which a quarter of a million people have seen so far."

He is pleased with the "Qashoush story." For him, music is "an expression of love and beauty." His sentiment seemed to be a cliché that skips over the Syrian scene, ignoring the bloody reality there.

The young musician quickly realizes what he has said and adds: "I mean that the revolution should provide space for popular artists and Qashoush was one of them."

Jandali does not think of Qashoush as a regular protester, but sees him as a "true artist more capable than others in inventing art" during a crucial time in Syria – until his throat was brutally cut.

Jandali is not an elitist. At least he tries to not to appear as such, saying that "revolutions start at the bottom." He does not like to speak much about his father getting beaten up, saying that it was an unjustified occurence.

He prefers to address the world through music. He believes that people's relationship with music in the Arab world is "polluted."

The political regimes that ruled the region over the past decades led to the collapse of "musical science" from Arab societies.

While he avoids generalizations, he could not hide his anger at the commercial pop music trend that dominates Arab musical production.

He concludes the interview as he began it, by mentioning Homs. All his recent concerts were for charity and most revenues "went directly to the injured in Syria."

Jandali will perform for his fans in London next month, where he plans to play his compositions with the British Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and to "salute the Syrian people in the presence of the queen."

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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