In the face of over five years of conflict in Syria, it can be easy to forget that long before it became a war engulfing almost every edge of the country, the struggle began in 2011 as peaceful protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Back then, those that bore the biggest and more immediate brunt of government aggression were the artists, activists and students at the heart of the rebellion.
Many of those struggles ended in the same, quiet demise. Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan and famed sculptor Wael Qastun, both tortured to death in Syrian prisons, are grim proof of that.
That's why stories like the one of Syrian violinist Alaa Arsheed, while few and far between, are becoming more important than ever to tell.
Recently featured in Quartz, the 29-year-old refugee just released his first album with the help of Italian communications center Fabrica. Titled Sham, the album features eight tracks of Arsheed's violin with electronic backing and tells the story of his journey from Syria to Italy. Like many artists before him, it was wrought with challenges.
The violinist told Quartz he used to run a gallery that served as a local hub for artists and activists in the Syrian city of Sweidah. Even before 2011, secret government police were watching the operation closely. One day, a mob broke into the gallery and destroyed the space, chanting pro-Assad rhetoric as they smashed artwork. Arsheed's father was detained for a week. Not long after, he fled to Lebanon.
Italian communication firm Fabrica first heart about Arsheed a few years later when his name appeared in a tweet about Syrian artists by Italian actor Alessandro Gassmann. The firm offered Arsheed a 3-month scholarship to go to Italy and complete an album. The young musician accepted, and in May 2015, he landed in Italy.
Now at the result of that journey, Arsheed said he hopes the album also serves to show a different side of Syrians in Europe, separate from the simple narrative of “just miserable refugees," and bring hope to the Syrian struggle through art.
“I believe in making peace through art, and this is what we will do,” he told Quartz. “We can turn our pain into music and art, and our voices will be louder than war and dictatorships."
Hear one of his songs below, via YouTube.
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