The Aleppo electronic artists using music to heal in Gaziantep | Arts and Culture


Gaziantep, Turkey – Amr Helwani’s fingers swiftly moved the knobs of a DJ mixer up and down whereas colored neon lights and white smoke started to swamp the tiled backyard of the outdated Ottoman home the place he had arrange his console.

The 33-year-old DJ’s techno music energised partygoers on a chilly late January evening in Gaziantep, a metropolis in southeastern Turkey on the border with Syria. Amr has been within the metropolis since 2013. He, like lots of these dancing, fled the Syrian battle from Aleppo, lower than a two-hour drive away.

“We break the sound barrier tonight,” joked Amr, a tall, unassuming man wearing a black T-shirt, referring to the deafening music. “However no, actually, we’re merely making an attempt to interrupt down language and cultural limitations right here. Turkish [people] and Syrians … we’ve very related traditions however the language is totally different. Techno is all in regards to the beats, not phrases. It makes it simpler to bop collectively.”

Amr is without doubt one of the resident DJs of Room41, an itinerant techno and digital music membership began by a Syrian refugee that has entertained Gaziantep locals for years. It has additionally offered an outlet for Syrians to come back collectively to let off steam and meet like-minded folks enthusiastic about music.

Little did Amr know, nevertheless, that January 28 would sign the final of his exhibits for some time. “See you all in two weeks!”, he mentioned as he wrapped up the evening at 3am.

Just a bit greater than every week later, catastrophic earthquakes struck southeastern Turkey and northwest Syria, altering the lives of Turks and Syrians endlessly. Greater than 50,000 people have been killed. In Gaziantep, about 3,000 died, whereas 1000’s stay displaced. With steady aftershocks for weeks and a whole metropolis dealing with the trauma of loss and devastation, the lights of Syrian techno nightlife switched off – simply as they’d through the battle.

“It’s scary how a lot it reminded us of the battle days: The screams, the sorrow, the displacement… however we promised our viewers that music could be again stronger than ever to cheer us up,” Amr mentioned in Could from Sakulta, a crowded café in central Gaziantep that sells tickets to Room41. His condo was spared vital harm however he relocated briefly additional west to the Mediterranean metropolis of Mersin to flee the stress of the fixed aftershocks.

The final Room41 get together the place Amr Helwani performed earlier than the earthquakes [Abdulsalam Jarroud/Al Jazeera]

Fleeing with cultural heritage

For the reason that starting of the Syrian conflict in 2011, some 3.7 million refugees have settled in Turkey. The vast majority of them now dwell alongside its southeastern borders, geographically and culturally nearer to the motherland.

From outdated Nineteenth-century Ottoman homes with massive domes and black-and-white striped horseshoe-shaped arches to the towering citadel in Gaziantep’s metropolis centre – partly destroyed by the quakes – and slim cobblestone streets stuffed with blacksmiths’ workshops and the meals smells from eateries, many corners of the town conjure pictures of pre-war Aleppo for Syrians.

At this time, greater than half one million Syrians dwell on this metropolis – a crossroads between Turkish, Kurdish and Arab cultures. Though greater than a decade of Syrian presence has led to some friction, it has additionally reshaped the social and concrete face of Gaziantep.

Syrian retailers, in addition to eating places and cafés providing conventional dwell music, are present in abundance within the metropolis centre’s primary streets. For the reason that earthquakes in February, nearly all of these have reopened with minor damages.

“Among the many few issues we have been in a position to deliver with us whereas working away from the battle, our cultural heritage was positively a part of our primary baggage,” mentioned Rami Magharbeh who comes from Aleppo. He’s the founding father of Douzan Artwork and Tradition, a Gaziantep-based organisation working to protect Syrian arts in exile.

“And that features the potential of latest types of inventive expressions, reminiscent of digital music, which our youth had simply begun to find till the battle got here,” the 38-year-old together with his gray, curly hair tied right into a ponytail, added. He was talking from the rooftop of Douzan’s base – an imposing, well-kept Ottoman home in Gaziantep’s Armenian district.

By the efforts of cultural organisations and enterprising people, Aleppo’s nightlife has moved about 100 kilometres (62 miles) throughout the border. In what was as soon as a sleepy metropolis, Syrian DJs and digital music aficionados have recreated the forgotten environment of the nascent scene they left behind.

Deal with the current

Secret raves and underground events had simply began to take off in Aleppo when the battle erupted, mentioned Batoul Mohammad, a tall charismatic electronic-music producer with lengthy black hair who divides her time between Gaziantep and Istanbul.

“That abruptly stopped its improvement, simply as our era was prepared to indicate what we’re able to,” defined the deep-voiced, 36-year-old. “I used to be a listener at these events and I spontaneously introduced these classes right here in Gaziantep the place I realised there was no nightlife. That’s one of many issues I missed probably the most about residence.”

Initially from the Syrian metropolis of Homs, she liked what Aleppo needed to supply when she may afford to go to on weekends – from spoken phrase occasions to rock music live shows. The flourishing cultural environment there was what impressed her to work within the performing arts.

In 2013, on the age of 25, she crossed the border alone into Turkey. Her dad and mom, though they wished her to remain, supported her resolution to pursue her ambitions. She discovered an condo in Gaziantep the place – decided to work in music – she would spend a median of seven hours a day educating herself to make use of music mixing software program and watching movies to review DJ units.

“Specializing in such sophisticated duties helped my thoughts concentrate on the current second, moderately than fidgeting about my previous,” Batoul defined, referring to the ache of leaving her household behind and coming to a rustic the place she usually felt unwelcome and skilled verbal abuse only for being Syrian.

For seven years, she labored odd jobs and put her music on the platform SoundCloud. She struggled to discover a group of like-minded artists till 2020, when Room41’s founder Nashwan Jamali reached out through Instagram and invited her to carry out at certainly one of his occasions.

A photo of a street with people at the end of it and a mosaic with geometric patterns on one of the buildings.
A nook of Gaziantep that resembles Aleppo is seen earlier than the earthquakes [Abdulsalam Jarroud/Al Jazeera]

Aleppo 2.0: The renaissance of Syrian nightlife

When the battle started, Nashwan was a college enterprise scholar in Aleppo and had simply gotten into organising music occasions. Within the early days of the battle, he was crushed and arrested by the Syrian police for taking part in anti-government protests.

In 2012, Nashwan discovered himself hiding in underground bunkers – as soon as used as rave venues – to shelter from air raids.

“It’s there I discovered how you can handle emergency conditions at events [such as fire and earthquake evacuations], like when in case of air strikes at evening I needed to discover ways to evacuate massive numbers of individuals,” he mentioned in a bittersweet tone.

A 12 months later, he crossed the border into Turkey together with his older brother in the hunt for a greater future, whereas their dad and mom and older sister stayed in Aleppo. Over time, the recollections of police violence, air raids and the fraught unlawful crossing into Turkey – when he was terrified Syrian border police would hearth on him and his brother – gave solution to nostalgic recollections of residence. He began pondering of making a spot the place Syrians of his era may come collectively, have enjoyable and keep in mind a greater previous.

Then, one evening in 2016, whereas inside a Turkish hamam set to 41 levels Celsius (106F), the 32-year-old entrepreneur received the concept to create an electro-music membership the situation of which modified for each get together.

Digital artists reminiscent of Hi there Psychaleppo and Boshoco, each from Aleppo, have been conquering European phases. However Nashwan felt it could be significant to attempt to revive Syria’s nightlife in Gaziantep – a metropolis with extra in frequent together with his native Aleppo in terms of meals, faith and historical past – to assist Syrians higher settle.

“Gaziantep and Aleppo are very related when it comes to folks and tradition, so this was the proper location to strive bringing our long-lost nightlife again to life,” Nashwan defined, whereas sipping a espresso at Sakulta, wearing his normal T-shirt and sneakers, simply earlier than a gathering to organise the following Room41 occasion.

“It was clear that almost all of us have been meant to remain and by no means return to Syria – that we would have liked to combine,” he added. “And music is commonly that profitable device.”

Nashwan initially thought it could simply be one thing distinctive if the membership travelled however then he determined that bringing it to totally different neighbourhoods may overturn the conception that Syrians keep on with themselves, selling integration.

The idea was new and Syrians face further paperwork when beginning companies so it took took a few 12 months for Nashwan to register Room41. Initially, as he waited for the registration, he couldn’t correctly promote the inaugural events and the turnout was low. Drug sellers tried to infiltrate the events, too. So Nashwan employed safety workers and pushed forward together with his challenge. “We knew we have been doing one thing for the group, filling a niche,” Nashwan mirrored.

At this time, Nashwan has 19 workers, each Syrians and Turks. Room41 ticket costs are reasonably priced in contrast with the identical sort of events in greater cities – just like the capital Istanbul or Izmir on the Aegean coast – and a median of 300 folks attend their occasions held twice a month on a Saturday evening. In its six years of events, Room41 has additionally offered a platform for a lot of up-and-coming Syrian DJs.

A photo of Nashwan Jamali sitting in front of a window with a blackboard behind him.
Nashwan Jamali, founding father of Room 41 on the espresso store Sakulta [Abdulsalam Jarroud/Al Jazeera]

Processing trauma

Amr, a resident DJ with Room41 for the previous three years, is a kind of artists.

Like Nashwan, he was arrested and crushed in Aleppo for participating in anti-government protests. Fearing that he may find yourself in jail or disappear, Amr crossed illegally into Turkey in 2013. His household stayed behind. Though he stays in touch with and misses them, he has not been in a position to see them since leaving.

Whereas rising up in Aleppo, Amr was an avid metallic and rock concertgoer. When he got here to Turkey he deeply missed dwell music that went past outdated folks songs performed inside cafés.

Amr, who’s by day an worker with a humanitarian NGO, taught himself to combine and produce music to distract himself from the recollections of air strikes in Aleppo and concentrate on one thing apart from not being together with his household. “It began as a pastime however then I felt the necessity to present the folks what I’m doing,” Amr defined, as he scratched again tapes on the get together in January.

The act of making music, listening to it and sharing it with others who give him suggestions empties his thoughts and makes him concentrate on constructing one thing for others, Amr says. It’s the most therapeutic exercise he has discovered.

In his music, he mixes conventional Arab music sounds just like the oud – a stringed instrument – or Syrian folks songs – like the enduring monitor Ayni Tsofia – with extra Western tracks he present in YouTube movies of Berlin raves he goals of enjoying at sooner or later. Acquiring a vacationer visa to take part in certainly one of these is extraordinarily onerous for a Syrian, he says.

His purpose is to create a type of futuristic Syrian sound with an eye fixed to the previous. “I like combining oriental sounds from our personal custom with extra Western beats,” he mirrored. “I believe it brings one thing new.”

Conserving reminiscence alive

There have been efforts to encourage this type of cultural expression by organisations like Douzan. In late 2022, Rami of Douzan launched a three-month programme known as Notah (“music word” in Arabic) with seven younger Syrian artists.

“Electro music is one thing very new in our area however very enticing for our youth,” Rami mentioned. “We wished to mix it with a possibility to know extra about their historical past and music as a result of after they left Syria, they have been too younger they usually’re shedding the connection to their roots.”

The artists have been mentored by DJs reminiscent of Amsterdam-based Hi there Psychaleppo. They did workshops on folks music – studying how you can mix conventional and modern tracks – and printed a collective album.

“It’s a solution to present we aren’t caught previously, that we’re pleased with our custom however that we will additionally specific [ourselves] in fashionable phrases,” Rami defined.

“Earlier than the town become rubble, our era had a shiny future forward,” Nashwan mentioned.

Joudy al-Ahmad, a humanitarian employee and an avid Room41 participant additionally from Aleppo, feels transported when she hears snippets of Arab and Syrian folks melodies, or bits of songs by the legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum or the Lebanese vocalist Fayrouz – who her dad and mom would play when she was a toddler – combined with electro sounds. “I abruptly understand a chunk of Syria,” mentioned the 30-year-old, including that this music “overwhelms me with feelings each time”.

Room41’s places – Ottoman-style homes current in each Aleppo and Gaziantep, which have been each beneath the identical empire, or underground parking tons like those that held secret events in Syria – are additionally chosen to awaken recollections of residence and assist company hook up with happier instances, in response to Nashwan.

Amr says he usually looks like he’s doing way more than simply scratching and mixing. “On the finish of the evening, folks come by the console to thank me for reminding them joyful recollections of Syria,” he mentioned. “So you’re feeling such as you did one thing good for others. That makes you care about your music, it makes it extra significant, particularly after what occurred to Syrians displaced for a second time in a decade after the earthquake.”

A photo of rubble in the middle of the street.
The venue Bayazhan, which was broken by the earthquakes [Abdulsalam Jarroud/Al Jazeera]


When the bottom shook that early February morning, life in Gaziantep got here to a standstill.

“Within the days following the earthquake, the photographs we might see strolling across the streets of Gaziantep seemed like what our eyes have been used to see daily strolling round battle rubbles,” mentioned Joudy.

Nashwan had related flashbacks when the primary earthquake hit – he thought for a second he was again in Syria and there was an air strike. “It took me whole minutes to grasp this was one other sort of catastrophe,” he mentioned.

His household in Aleppo was wonderful. Each his household’s residence and the one in Gaziantep sustained some cracks however weren’t badly broken. For a number of days, he slept in a brief shelter so he may very well be round different folks till the aftershocks subsided. The shock of the catastrophe reminded him of the unease he felt through the battle in his homeland.

A lot of Room41’s former dozen or so venues not exist, or usually are not protected sufficient to host a whole lot of individuals. Outdated Ottoman homes, particularly, are out of the equation for safety causes – at the least till they’re made earthquake-proof. One among their most iconic venues, Bayazhan, a crumbling constructing within the coronary heart of the town that homes a restaurant and museum not has a roof. The dwell music venue Lebowski Blues, Room 41’s summer season outpost was become a refuge for folks displaced after the quake.

“After a interval of mourning”, Nashwan mentioned, the workers at Room41 felt it was time to host a celebration to check the waters. “Coming again was our resilient response and supply of peace to our wounded group,” he mentioned.

Joudy is without doubt one of the many individuals displaced within the metropolis. Her residence was broken however happily, she will afford to pay for a brief condo, not like the 1000’s of individuals dwelling in tented settlements throughout the town in parks and underground shelters.

Her household, nonetheless in Aleppo, can also be protected. The pure catastrophe reminded her of the battle however she thinks the tragedy might have introduced Gaziantep and Aleppo even nearer, in a way, because the folks had now endured related devastation and displacement.

“I didn’t go to the primary get together after the earthquake, although I wished and wanted to, after a lot grief,” Joudy mirrored. “However I used to be busy with extra essential duties, reminiscent of making an attempt to repair my home.”

Amr believes the events – as soon as they’re up and working once more – can supply a type of stress aid after the quakes and assist folks realise “that all the things can and can return to normality”.

After studying to deal with trauma “by means of the battle, we’ll apply the identical abilities to cheer up the town’s temper”, he mentioned.

A photo of a group of people standing around a DJ.
Batoul Mohammadi performs music at certainly one of Room41’s events final winter [Abdulsalam Jarroud/Al Jazeera]

Difficult stereotypes, bridging gaps

For Batoul, one of many key values of Room41 and the music she makes is to indicate that Syrian refugees deliver one thing that may profit locals. “In international locations the place massive numbers of Syrians arrived, there’s this stereotype that we’re poor and easily come to steal jobs or make a multitude. However we’ve personalities, goals and passions. We’re not simply numbers,” she defined.

At this time, she is the one feminine Syrian DJ in Turkey. She performs beneath the moniker Umm el-Beat – an homage to older Arab, feminine singers named Umm, Arabic for “mom”. Her tracks are recognisable due to melodies from the darbouka – a typical Arab percussion, drum-like instrument, which reminds her of her childhood in Syria – in addition to the oud (an ancestor of the lute), intertwined with digital sounds.

She says she is grateful to have ultimately present in Gaziantep a protected house to showcase her music, particularly as a Syrian lady. She hopes to see extra ladies on this subject.

“As digital music is commonly a person’s world, it may be scary to be each a girl and a migrant on this subject,” she mirrored. “Folks weren’t taking me critically at first. However I wished so badly to problem the stereotype that ladies can’t do that as a result of we wouldn’t even know the place to place the cables.”

By her music, she says she needs to “deliver collectively many kinds of audiences, not simply Syrians”.

Again in January, Nashwan, who wore sun shades within the darkness because the techno beats stuffed a room of the Ottoman constructing, mentioned: “It’s nice to see folks mixing in peace and having fun with the music and vibes.”

A lot of Room41’s regulars are humanitarian employees, largely from Western international locations, Syrian refugees and Turkish college college students.

Throughout the early days of the battle in Syria, when Gaziantep was overwhelmed by an unprecedented variety of refugees, social tensions pushed Turkish and Syrians to dwell in separate bubbles. However at Room41, these partitions appear to come back down, at the least for an evening. Folks dance and chat and there’s a feeling of openness.

“We’re bringing the concept of bridging a cultural hole by means of such occasions that may be replicated anyplace in Turkey,” Nashwan mentioned.

“I witnessed loads of prejudice in direction of Syrians, reminiscent of ideas about them bringing violence and financial disaster to our nation,” mentioned Ayse ​​Yılmaz, a humanitarian employee and common at these occasions. “However I really feel that these tensions disappear on this place. It’d look like a utopian paradise however those that come listed here are folks with a very open thoughts prepared to transcend.”

Ayse mentioned that earlier than attending these occasions, she by no means had any Syrian buddies, regardless of dwelling in a metropolis the place about one-fourth of its inhabitants are from Syria. She is completely satisfied to have met Joudy there. “They’re like us and simply wish to overlook in regards to the battle. They’re not coming to hurt us,” Yılmaz added, referring to the Syrians she has met. “We’ve this lovely factor in frequent, this ardour for digital music. They merely wish to have enjoyable like us so why not [be] doing it collectively?”

“It’s nice to seek out new folks you share one thing with that doesn’t essentially need to be your language or tradition,” Joudy mentioned. “With these coming to each get together, we’ve principally grow to be a household that fills the hole of these blood relations we’ve left behind in Syria.”

Gaziantep’s Room41 has grow to be the birthplace of bonds between Syrian and Turkish DJs, too. Amr met Ali Cin, an area Turkish producer, with whom he now collaborates on mixing Turkish and Syrian sounds.

“I made loads of Turkish buddies. Perhaps now I even have extra Turkish buddies than Syrians,” Amr mentioned smiling. “Electro music has been an effective way to bond and meet new individuals who simply wish to have enjoyable.”

Past Gaziantep

Digital music occasions in Gaziantep might have began with the Syrian exiles behind Room41 however immediately, Turkish entrepreneurs are additionally becoming a member of the business, serving to the town’s nightlife flourish little by little.

Nashwan hopes to get Room41 again on monitor as a type of therapeutic for everybody who endured the collective trauma. Extra events are set to happen after this weekend’s Turkish election reruns to assist folks unwind.

The April get together, the one post-earthquake one thus far, was a check of the town’s temper and to rejoice the tip of Ramadan. It had a great turnout however decrease than what it was beforehand as life slowly will get again to regular. Earlier than the earthquakes, folks from quieter areas in close by provinces joined Room41. Many haven’t but returned.

Nashwan needs to develop Room41’s musical choices whereas holding the environment intimate as he focuses on his subsequent purpose: taking the idea of an itinerant get together again to the Aleppo he left so a few years in the past.

He realises the kind of problem this would possibly entail security-wise. With the town beneath authorities management, it could be too harmful for him to journey, but he’s prepared to take a position efforts into coordinating this from overseas and depend on an unlimited community of up-and-coming DJs ready for regular life to return to Aleppo. His father, on the opposite facet of the border, has provided to print flyers when the time comes.

“Folks get depressed as a result of they will’t communicate or don’t really feel like talking about Syria, however [Gaziantep’s nightlife] provides good recollections of again residence,” Nashwan mentioned. “That is our resistance to battle and catastrophe, the great thing about music and real, wild enjoyable.”

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here