Malek Jandali: Soundtracking the Syrian Spring – Liam Thompson
When a young street vendor, confronted one too many times by the tyranny of petty officialdom, set himself alight in a busy Tunisian market just over one year ago, a series of events was set in motion that have reshaped the world.
For Arab people everywhere 2011 was a definitive year, and for none more so than Malek Jandali. A year ago Jandali was an up and coming classical musician, whose talent had given him a ticket out of Syria and to the US. Today, however, Malek Jandali is the thorn in the side of Assad’s regime – a composer whose song Watani Ana (I am my homeland) has become the clarion call of the protest movement in Syria. A measure of the irritation Jandali is causing the regime is evidenced by his website which was recently hijacked and replaced by an image of Assad and now remains under construction.
Sitting in a cluttered front room in downtown Atlanta though, a well used piano nearby, the young composer concedes that compared to his compatriots back in Syria he is not a fighter. « When you have the courage to stand in front of a bullet you can change the world. I don’t have that kind of courage. These people are changing the world – teaching us lessons every day, lessons in patriotism and courage. »
« I have taken advantage of being here in the US, with protected rights and not having to dodge live ammunition, to voice my concerns and to be a voice for those who don’t have one. »
Despite the protection afforded by living in the US however, the crosshairs of the regime in Damascus have become increasingly focused on Jandali over recent months. Numerous death threats followed the release of Watani Ana, released to coincide with Syrian Independence Day, and his family home back in Syria has been repeatedly attacked, his parents beaten.
Despite the threats, and even efforts by the American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee to ban Watani Ana, the song struck a nerve and has come to soundtrack opposition to President Assad. And Malek Jandali has no plans to let up. His next album, as yet untitled, will continue the protest and is a bold diversion from the lovingly performed arrangements that dominate 2009’s Echoes from Ugarit.
What may prove to be the most contentious song for the Assad clique is The Freedom Symphony, based upon the infectious refrain of Ibrahim Qashoush. Qashoush was an amateur poet who turned his tongue on the regime. « His chant was very popular and spread to Egypt, Yemen…all over the place. The chant is called ‘Go Away Bashar’ put people simply replace the name Bashar with the name of the local dictator! »
This defiance cost Qashoush his life. In July his body was found dumped in a river, his throat cut and his vocal chords torn out. « To honour his throat and his soul, the least I can do is take his chant forward on the piano. »
And maybe this is why Malek Jandali is so threatening to the Assad’s regime. Because music is a catalyst for change that cannot be shot or killed. You can kill the singer, as they did with Ibrahim Qashoush, but you can never kill a song. As Jandali says; « What is music? You cannot grab it or touch it, it is in the air. The regime cannot capture or contain music so they go after my elderly parents instead – they are cowards. »