BEIRUT — In Hamra, the commercial and diplomatic center of Beirut, passersby could hear the singing of 20 Syrian and Lebanese children, who were practicing for their concert during the Global Week for Syria festival, which took place on June 28-July 5.
“Each Saturday morning since January, these children have been practicing with Syrian oud player Mohanad Nasser to sing traditional songs,” Mona Yaacouli, a local coordinator for the French association Yalla! pour les Enfants, told Al-Monitor. The choir, which is accompanied by Syrian and local musicians, is made up of Syrian refugee children and local youngsters living in the Lebanese village of Aley.
“They are very excited as it is their first public performance. This new experience will give them confidence. The Syrian children in Aley hardly ever get to go anywhere new unless we take them out,” Yaacouli said. After their performance at the festival, the children headed to famous restaurant T Marbouta for a meal.
The children’s concert organized by Yalla! was one of the many concerts, performances, panel discussions and workshops in Lebanon that took place as part of the Global Week for Syria. The festival marks a worldwide initiative by the Music and Beyond Foundation under the patronage and support of UNESCO. Twenty countries participated in the festival, including in Lebanon where events were held in Beirut, Aley, Tripoli, Minyara and the Bekaa Valley.
Global Week for Syria is a multidisciplinary call for peace, support and co-creation that is aimed at raising awareness, creating platforms and stimulating artistic co-creations between Syrian and local and international musicians, according to its organizers. The driving force of the festival is Hannibal Saad, the founder of the Music and Beyond Foundation, whose desire to unite Syrian musicians with their international counterparts started with a project called “Syrian Music Lives” in 2013.
“I used to organize two festivals in Syria each year, but after 2011 I decided to do something to bring Syrian musicians together abroad,” Saad, a rock musician in the 1980s, told Al-Monitor. “I asked people to share information about concerts that involved Syrian musicians. I saw the need of a global festival and launched the first Global Syria Week in 2015.”
He said, “The main axis is between Lebanon and the Netherlands, but more and more cities join each year. We prefer to focus on Lebanon because it is close to Syria with many international organizations, Arabic and international media, as well as many Syrian artists based here."
For Saad, the Global Week for Syria is about Syrians keeping hope alive and encouraging Syrian artists to continue making music in their new lives in the various host countries.
“I also wanted to show Westerners that Syrian musicians can share their culture and adapt to new ones,” he noted. “In Lebanon, it is important to work with the local community so that’s why we chose to partner with UNESCO, which works hard to raise awareness and preserve the Syrian heritage.”
He added that he started the Global Week for Syria with modest means, and that because people believed in the festival's mission it has grown bigger each year. “That means there is good energy here. We believe in co-creation and what it does to bring musicians and people together — making you see life in a more positive way,” he said.
The first festival took place at the American University of Beirut in collaboration with the Morgenland Festival Osnabruck with concerts by Lebanese, Dutch, Syrian and American-Syrian artists. In addition to the concerts, panel discussions and workshops are organized that focus on topics such as the regional traditions of music, Syrian artists and musical movements.
Fawaz Baker, a Syrian scholar, musician and composer currently living in France, traveled to Beirut to participate in the festival. “I will be part of panel discussions — one about the life and work of Aleppine musician Nouri Iskandar, the other about my own work,” Baker told Al-Monitor. “But I already travel to Lebanon once a month because I started music schools in refugee camps four years ago."
Baker said he decided to participate in the festival not to help “rebuild a fragmented Syria” but to demonstrate his faith in the power of music. “I only believe in things you choose freely — unlike one's nationality, identity or religion. Music is the only way to go beyond that,” he said.