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 previous 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 a lot of these dancing, fled the Syrian struggle 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 obstacles right here. Turkish [people] and Syrians … now we have very comparable traditions however the language is completely different. Techno is all concerning the beats, not phrases. It makes it simpler to bounce collectively.”

Amr is likely 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 return collectively to let off steam and meet like-minded individuals keen about music.

Little did Amr know, nonetheless, 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 per week later, catastrophic earthquakes struck southeastern Turkey and northwest Syria, altering the lives of Turks and Syrians eternally. Greater than 50,000 people have been killed. In Gaziantep, about 3,000 died, whereas hundreds stay displaced. With steady aftershocks for weeks and a complete metropolis dealing with the trauma of loss and devastation, the lights of Syrian techno nightlife switched off – simply as that they had through the struggle.

“It’s scary how a lot it reminded us of the struggle 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 residence was spared vital injury however he relocated quickly additional west to the Mediterranean metropolis of Mersin to flee the stress of the fixed aftershocks.

The final Room41 celebration 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. Nearly all of them now stay alongside its southeastern borders, geographically and culturally nearer to the motherland.

From previous Nineteenth-century Ottoman homes with giant 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 full of blacksmiths’ workshops and the meals smells from eateries, many corners of town conjure photos of pre-war Aleppo for Syrians.

Right now, greater than half 1,000,000 Syrians stay 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 outlets, in addition to eating places and cafés providing conventional stay music, are present in abundance within the metropolis centre’s important 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 capable of deliver with us whereas working away from the battle, our cultural heritage was positively a part of our fundamental 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 recent types of creative expressions, similar to digital music, which our youth had simply begun to find till the struggle 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 means of 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.

Concentrate on the current

Secret raves and underground events had simply began to take off in Aleppo when the struggle 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 growth, simply as our technology 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 dwelling.”

Initially from the Syrian metropolis of Homs, she beloved what Aleppo needed to supply when she might afford to go to on weekends – from spoken phrase occasions to rock music concert events. 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 mother and father, though they wished her to remain, supported her choice to pursue her ambitions. She discovered an residence in Gaziantep the place – decided to work in music – she would spend a mean 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 deal with the current second, fairly than fidgeting about my previous,” Batoul defined, referring to the ache of leaving her household behind and coming to a rustic the place she typically 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 neighborhood of like-minded artists till 2020, when Room41’s founder Nashwan Jamali reached out through Instagram and invited her to carry out at one in all 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 struggle started, Nashwan was a college enterprise pupil in Aleppo and had simply gotten into organising music occasions. Within the early days of the struggle, he was overwhelmed and arrested by the Syrian police for collaborating 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 one 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 giant numbers of individuals,” he mentioned in a bittersweet tone.

A yr later, he crossed the border into Turkey together with his older brother in the hunt for a greater future, whereas their mother and father 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 technique to nostalgic recollections of dwelling. He began pondering of making a spot the place Syrians of his technology might come collectively, have enjoyable and bear 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 bought the thought to create an electro-music membership the placement of which modified for each celebration.

Digital artists similar to Whats up Psychaleppo and Boshoco, each from Aleppo, have been conquering European levels. However Nashwan felt it could be significant to attempt to revive Syria’s nightlife in Gaziantep – a metropolis with extra in widespread together with his native Aleppo in the case of meals, faith and historical past – to assist Syrians higher settle.

“Gaziantep and Aleppo are very comparable by way of individuals and tradition, so this was the proper location to attempt 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 subsequent Room41 occasion.

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

Nashwan initially thought it could simply be one thing distinctive if the membership travelled however then he determined that bringing it to completely different neighbourhoods might overturn the conception that Syrians follow themselves, selling integration.

The idea was new and Syrians face further paperwork when beginning companies so it took took a couple of yr 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 employees and pushed forward together with his challenge. “We knew we have been doing one thing for the neighborhood, filling a spot,” Nashwan mirrored.

Right now, Nashwan has 19 employees, each Syrians and Turks. Room41 ticket costs are reasonably priced in contrast with the identical kind of events in greater cities – just like the capital Istanbul or Izmir on the Aegean coast – and a mean of 300 individuals 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 type of artists.

Like Nashwan, he was arrested and overwhelmed in Aleppo for participating in anti-government protests. Fearing that he might 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 capable of see them since leaving.

Whereas rising up in Aleppo, Amr was an avid steel and rock concertgoer. When he got here to Turkey he deeply missed stay music that went past previous people 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 deal with one thing aside from not being together with his household. “It began as a pastime however then I felt the necessity to present the individuals what I’m doing,” Amr defined, as he scratched again tapes on the celebration 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 deal with 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 people songs – like the long-lasting observe Ayni Tsofia – with extra Western tracks he present in YouTube movies of Berlin raves he desires of enjoying at in the future. Acquiring a vacationer visa to take part in one in all these is extraordinarily laborious for a Syrian, he says.

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

Protecting 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 referred to as Notah (“music notice” in Arabic) with seven younger Syrian artists.

“Electro music is one thing very new in our area however very engaging for our youth,” Rami mentioned. “We wished to mix it with a chance 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 similar to Amsterdam-based Whats up Psychaleppo. They did workshops on people music – studying how one can mix conventional and modern tracks – and revealed a collective album.

“It’s a technique to present we’re not caught previously, that we’re pleased with our custom however that we are able to additionally specific [ourselves] in fashionable phrases,” Rami defined.

“Earlier than town was rubble, our technology 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 people melodies, or bits of songs by the legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum or the Lebanese vocalist Fayrouz – who her mother and father would play when she was a baby – blended 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 below the identical empire, or underground parking heaps like those that held secret events in Syria – are additionally chosen to awaken recollections of dwelling and assist company hook up with happier occasions, in line with Nashwan.

Amr says he typically appears like he’s doing way more than simply scratching and mixing. “On the finish of the evening, individuals come by the console to thank me for reminding them joyful recollections of Syria,” he mentioned. “So you are 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 pictures we might see strolling across the streets of Gaziantep seemed like what our eyes have been used to see daily strolling round struggle rubbles,” mentioned Joudy.

Nashwan had comparable 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 total minutes to grasp this was one other kind of catastrophe,” he mentioned.

His household in Aleppo was high quality. Each his household’s dwelling and the one in Gaziantep sustained some cracks however weren’t badly broken. For a number of days, he slept in a short lived shelter so he might be round different individuals till the aftershocks subsided. The shock of the catastrophe reminded him of the unease he felt through the battle in his homeland.

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

“After a interval of mourning”, Nashwan mentioned, the employees 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 neighborhood,” he mentioned.

Joudy is likely one of the many individuals displaced within the metropolis. Her dwelling was broken however happily, she will be able to afford to pay for a short lived residence, not like the hundreds of individuals dwelling in tented settlements throughout town in parks and underground shelters.

Her household, nonetheless in Aleppo, can be protected. The pure catastrophe reminded her of the struggle however she thinks the tragedy could have introduced Gaziantep and Aleppo even nearer, in a way, because the individuals had now endured comparable devastation and displacement.

“I didn’t go to the primary celebration after the earthquake, although I wished and wanted to, after a lot grief,” Joudy mirrored. “However I used to be busy with extra necessary duties, similar to 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 individuals realise “that all the things can and can return to normality”.

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

A photo of a group of people standing around a DJ.
Batoul Mohammadi performs music at one in all 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 giant numbers of Syrians arrived, there’s this stereotype that we’re poor and easily come to steal jobs or make a large number. However now we have personalities, desires and passions. We’re not simply numbers,” she defined.

Right now, she is the one feminine Syrian DJ in Turkey. She performs below 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 girl. She hopes to see extra girls on this area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I witnessed numerous prejudice in direction of Syrians, similar to 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 below are individuals with a very open thoughts keen 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 glad to have met Joudy there. “They’re like us and simply wish to overlook concerning the struggle. They’re not coming to hurt us,” Yılmaz added, referring to the Syrians she has met. “Now we have this stunning factor in widespread, 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 individuals you share one thing with that doesn’t essentially need to be your language or tradition,” Joudy mentioned. “With these coming to each celebration, we’ve mainly grow to be a household that fills the hole of these blood family 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 numerous 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 could have began with the Syrian exiles behind Room41 however as we speak, Turkish entrepreneurs are additionally becoming a member of the business, serving to town’s nightlife flourish little by little.

Nashwan hopes to get Room41 again on observe 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 individuals unwind.

The April celebration, the one post-earthquake one to this point, was a take a look at of town’s temper and to have a good time the top of Ramadan. It had turnout however decrease than what it was beforehand as life slowly will get again to regular. Earlier than the earthquakes, individuals from quieter areas in close by provinces joined Room41. Many haven’t but returned.

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

He realises the kind of problem this may entail security-wise. With town below authorities management, it could be too harmful for him to journey, but he’s keen to speculate 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 aspect of the border, has supplied to print flyers when the time comes.

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

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here