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Music and Dance in Syria

Syrian singer Lena Chamamyan (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

Syria’s music is part of the Arab tradition. However, at the crossroads of different cultures, it also benefits from various other influences – Turkish, Kurdish, and Persian as well as Egyptian. Some singers are revered across the borders, such as the legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum and the Lebanese singer Fairuz. But the Syrians also have their own legendary singer-actor and ud player Farid al-Atrash (1915-1974). Singer Lena Chamamyan is also on her way to becoming a legend.

The ud is the traditional instrument. The Syrian ud is slightly larger and longer than the Persian or Turkish ud. It is still popular, and often played in small ensembles together with the kamanja (spike fiddle), qanun (box zither), darbuka (goblet drum), and daf (tambourine). These ensembles play traditional music such as muwashshah, which is especially popular in Aleppo and related to some forms of Andalusian music. Younger musicians sometimes mix the traditional instruments and sounds to make modern music and rhythms.

Jazz is very much alive in Syria. Every year in June, the Jazz Lives in Syria Festival is held both in Damascus and Aleppo. There is even a Syrian Jazz Orchestra; since the creation of this festival in 2005, at least eight new jazz bands have been founded. Guitarist Hannibal Saad’s big band includes singer Ribal al-Khudari, who is also known as a performer of more traditional music.

Traditional dances are still performed, such as the dabke, which varies according to the region, or the sama, which is still danced in Aleppo and is said to derive from a Sufi ceremony.

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