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The Interview: Malek Jandali

Renowned composer and pianist Malek Jandali grew up in Homs City and was one of the first Syrian creative artists to support the protests from abroad. Jandali’s parents were attacked by state security forces and have since found refuge in the United States, where their son holds citizenship. Here, he discusses the new political role of Syrian artists.

Written by Patrick Hilsman Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

[![][2]][2]News Deeply: What are your first memories of music?

Malek Jandali: My first concert was when I was nine years old, in 1981. I always wanted to be a pianist. It was very hard to find a piano teacher in Syria so my family found a trumpet player to teach me notations. As I got more advanced they looked for a piano school and I started going to [one in] Damascus. I got a scholarship to the U.S. for piano performance.

When I was young in Syria, I never knew that my ancestors had invented musical notation. When I came to the United States I was a free human being, I felt I had rights: human rights, copyrights, all kinds of rights.

I went back to my roots and I discovered the Ugaritic Hymn [which is the earliest known musical notation.] Those ancient civilizations were free people so they had women in power.

ND: Tell me what it was like to be an artist under Hafez al-Assad and his son, Bashar.

MJ: A dictatorship is anti-freedom. The regime is very aware of the soft power of music or of a cartoonist, and made every effort to control art.

You cannot be an artist lacking freedom, you can’t be searching for beauty and truth. Artists in Syria are always being controlled to try to support the agenda of dictators.

ND: Describe the assault on your parents at your family’s home in Syria by fighters loyal to President Assad.

MJ: I was among the first Syrian artists abroad to support the revolution.

The Shabiha came to my home. They handcuffed and beat my father and broke my mother’s teeth. It was a clear message to shut me up. I called the U.S. Embassy and they helped me get my family to the U.S. Here are two Syrians and the U.S. gave them safe haven when Arab countries failed to do so.

The incident made me more determined. You can capture the musician and cut his throat or terrorize his family, but you cannot capture the music.

I have sent letters to U.S. senators urging them to fight for the values of freedom and democracy and for the Syrian people.

The Syrian people are not chanting for one party or the other. They are chanting what the American and French people chanted during their revolutions: “give me liberty, or give me death.”

ND: Your latest album is titled Emassa…

MJ: Emassa is the ancient name of Homs, a crucial city that connects the country. Throughout history the people of Homs have been innovative. We are hard to control and are a true representation of all of Syrian people.

Homs is in every meaning a true symphony with all those different melodies and colors yet it is in harmony. If one person… can bother the regime, imagine what a whole symphony of people can do.

ND: How are you keeping busy?

MJ: I am currently doing a “freedom tour” with cartoonist Ali Farzat [who was himself assaulted for confronting the regime]. I’m working on the final touches of a major symphonic piece with four movements, derived from melodies of the Syrian revolution. It tells the story of the Syrian revolution through music. My victory piece will be called the “Freedom Anthem.”

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