Taraf Syriana is an ensemble of virtuoso master musicians from diverse ethnic backgrounds who play traditional music from Syria and surrounding cultures and countries. The group plays folk music from the Balkans to Syria, and this week they will launch an eponymously titled debut album on the Lulaworld record label in Canada.
Ongoing conflict in Syria and the region dominates the news these days, overshadowing the historical position Syria has had as a centre for art and culture — a hub where Arabs, Armenians, Syrians, Turks, Iraqis, Kurds and even Roma meet and exchange culture and music.
The four core members of Taraf Syriana, and their talented guests, represent the diverse ethnicity of the region — Balkan music specialist, accordion master and de-facto leader Sergiu Popa; violin player Omar Abou Afach; cellist Noemy Braun; and ganoun master Naeem Shanwar, were all trained in the conservatoires of Syria but like so many musicians and artists in the war-torn country, they had to leave to survive, and so migrated to Canada.
Omar Abou Afach says in the liner notes that the aim of the ensemble was to recreate the sound of Syria’s public squares. “We want to share the incredible musical diversity of all of Syria’s peoples.”
The quartet was supported on the album by expert musicians, each of whom brought specific expertise to the mix. Legendary Romanian singer and guitarist Dan Armeanca (he lights up the opening track Me Dukhap Tuke with his powerful, haunting voice); darbouka (frame drum) maestro Mohamed Raky; oud player Nazik Borish; and singer Ayham Abou Ammar all make significant contributions on various tracks. Ammar’s singing is showcased on my favourite track Budukka Al Mayes, which the liner notes say is a description of being “entranced by beauty, falling in love and dancing in the garden”. It’s a truly inspiring song, one that made me think of hauntingly beautiful passages in 2021 Nobel prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah’s novel Paradise.
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