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Aleppo Flows Through Us – Syrian Arts and Culture Festival

Thu 11 May, 19:00
£15 + BF

London’s Syrian Arts and Culture Festival (SACF) proudly presents an enchanting evening celebrating Aleppo, its music and musicians, past and present.

For generations, music lovers throughout the region held that “the musician for whom Aleppo claps is a musician who will receive the applause of the Arabs.” Situated at the crossroads between Turkey and the Arab world, and between the Silk Road and the Mediterranean Sea, Aleppo established itself as a preeminent centre of Tarab, the musical ecstasy associated with cultural refinement. The violence and mass displacement of the past decade has placed many of these traditions at risk of being forgotten.

Over the course of this evening, presenters and performers will shed light on efforts to remember and withstand erasure, and the many ways in which creative acts of expression can help hold out against the tests of time and reinvigorate the living richness and beauty of these traditions. Featuring a short film screening, panel conversation and live music performance, the evening sets out to offer a heartfelt encounter with a people and place steeped in the love of musical ecstasy: Tarab.

This event is co-produced by Zamakan and Marsm in partnership with Grand Junction and is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

Syrian arts & culture festival

Opening with a special edit of Maqamat Almasara (“Aleppo, Maqams for Pleasure”) by the much-acclaimed Syrian filmmaker Mohammad Malas. The film tells a tale about Aleppo’s music with a focus on Sabri Moudallal, a legendary musician and composer of classical Arabic music. This special edition of the film, made especially for this event, was made possible by Syrian filmmaker Omar Malas.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion on the regional impact of Aleppo’s musical life. Syrian musician and composer, Ibrahim Muslimani will join music historian Hazem Jamjoum and ethnomusicologist Dunya Habash in a conversation about the city’s musical forms, its musicians, music scholars, and musical ideas, and how they helped shape the very notion of “Arabic music” in the twentieth century.

The evening will close with a musical performance by Nawa Band, led by Ibrahim Muslimani and featuring a group of talented UK-based musicians Tarik Beshir, Martin Stokes, Yara Salahiddeen, Hanan Alhabash, and Bassel Hariri. Coming together on this London stage, they will perform Nawa Band’s 2021 album Wasl, which emerged from the in-depth research conducted by Nefes Foundation.

The performance will be accompanied by projections created by visual artist and designer Tulip Hazbar.

This evening is curated by Yamen Mekdad.

Date: Thursday 25 May 2023

Start Time: 20:00

Doors: 19:00

Length: approx. 2 hours


19:00 | Welcome Reception

20:00 | Opening remarks

20:05 | Screening of “Aleppo, Maqams for Pleasure” by Mohamed Malas [special edit]

20:20 | Panel conversation with Ibrahim Muslimani, Hazem Jamjoum and Dunya Habash

21:00 | Break

21:10 | Music performance by Nawa band of their latest album Wasl led by Ibrahim Msulmani featuring: Tarik Beshir, Martin Stokes, Yara Salahiddeen, Hanan Alhabash, and Bassel Hariri

22:00 | End

Tickets: £15 + BF

Venue: Grand Junction is a venue for the community, arts and culture based at St Mary Magdalene Church.

Closest Stations: Royal Oak (Circle and Hammersmith & City line) 0.64km, Warwick Avenue (Bakerloo line) 0.64km, and Paddington Station (National Rail services and Circle, District, Bakerloo, Hammersmith & City line) 1.4km


Ibrahim Muslimani is a Syrian teacher, author, and percussionist who specializes in Syrian musical heritage, particularly traditional music from Aleppo. He studied under notable Syrian and Turkish music masters, including Hassan Bassal, Zuheir Meniny, and Mustafa Büyükipekçi. In 2009, he founded the Nawa Band to preserve and share the oral heritage of Muwashahat and Qudud, and chant chapters of Dhikr for documentation, preservation, and publishing purposes. He has released two albums with the band and is currently working on a new project called “Breathes from Aleppo.” Ibrahim is also the founder and director of the Nefes Foundation for Arts & Culture in Gaziantep, Turkey, and a graduate of the Fine Arts Faculty, Department of Cinema & TV at Gaziantep University. He has participated in numerous international activities, festivals, and workshops and recently collaborated with the Oxford Maqam Ensemble in the UK.

Hazem Jamoum is curator of the British Library’s early twentieth century audio recordings of relevance to Arab and Gulf History. His work aims at digitizing, cataloguing and contextualizing this part of Arab communities’ audio heritage. His doctoral research in history at NYU focuses on the first decades of the recording industry in the Arab world.

Dunya Habash is a PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology at the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge. Through a Woolf Institute Cambridge Scholarship and under the supervision of Dr Matthew Machin-Autenrieth, her ethnographic research with Syrian musicians in Turkey examines the effects of ‘integration’ on music-making and more generally on Syrian cultural practices and imaginaries post-displacement. She also holds undergraduate degrees in Music and History from Birmingham-Southern College (USA), where she embarked on her first substantive project with Syrian forced migrants, a documentary film on Jordan’s largest refugee camp for Syrians, titled ‘Zaatari: Jordan’s Newest City’.

Mohammad Malas born 1945 is a prominent Syrian filmmaker. Malas directed several documentary and feature films that garnered international recognition. He is among the first auteur filmmakers in Syrian cinema.

Omara Malas, born in Damascus 1983, is an independent photographer and filmmaker who has directed and filmed several documentaries, living and working in Damascus, Syria.

Tarik Beshir is a uniquely talented vocalist and student of the style and techniques of late 19th and early 20th-century song in Ottoman Egypt. Gifted with silken tones and a tremendous range, he is one of just a handful who can faithfully recreate the sound of this period of renaissance. He is also a skilled Oud player and songwriter who’s been playing his trade now for over 20 years. He plays the oud in the Egyptian style and the Mohammed Qasabji School of oud technique in particular.

Martin Stokes is an academic ethnomusicologist who has been researching and playing the music of the region since the 1980s. He currently teaches at King’s College London. He has played qanun with Oxford Maqam since its formation over ten years ago, and featured on their 2017 album ‘The Wax Cylinder Recordings’.

Yara Salahiddeen is an Egyptian-Palestinian singer and researcher who performs a variety of Arabic song traditions. She joined the Oxford Maqam ensemble in 2009 and specialises in song forms that were prevalent in Egypt at the turn of the 20th century including the muwashshah, dawr, and taqtuqa. Having attained a Master’s in Ethnomusicology at SOAS University in 2017, she now conducts doctoral research at Oxford University, examining the practice of tarab in Egypt from a historical, cultural and social perspective

Hanan Alhabash is a Syrian Journalist, a singer, a voice-over and a dubbing artist. She’s done her first album for Sana Production in 2003 and had her religious Sufi album (Ya Habib El Rouh) in 2008. Before joining Nefes Music and Art School, Hanan contributed to several cultural and religious events, such as the International Poets Festival at Kinderley Church, and Prophet Mohammad’s birthday celebrations at the Opera House in Damascus. In 2020 Hanan joined Nawa band and participated in the album Wasl, which was released in 2021. She also took part in the band’s concert in cooperation with the Oxford Maqam Band at Oxford University in 2023.

Bassel Hariri is a Syrian Lawyer and artist. He has an L.L.M in business law from Aleppo University Syria and MSc in Migration studies from SOAS University of London. Bassel studied classical music at a young age at the Arab Conservatory in Aleppo Syria and graduated with honours. Later he studied Arab maqam music and played as part of many orchestras including the Aleppo chamber orchestra and the band of the pioneer Sabah Fakhri. He led the Homayoun band in Syria in 2008 and co-created the Dopamine Jazz Quintet in 2010. Currently produces electronic music under the name “USTAVI” where he creates a mixed genre of multi-ethnic variations reflecting his migration experience.

Yamen Mekdad is an artist, curator, filmmaker, DJ and radio host based in London. His practice is experimentation in radical collaboration. His interests in field recording, archiving, radio and grassroots organizing led him to co-found Sawt of the Earth and Makkam, two London-based collectives. He is a frequent contributor to a number of radio stations, including Root, Balami, NTS and AlHara Radio. Yamen is currently co-producer and curator of two endeavours: the Syrian Cassette Archives (a web platform dedicated to the preservation and research of the Syrian cassette era) and the Syrian Arts and Culture Festival. Yamen has performed and collaborated with various artists/art institutions in the UK and internationally. He is also one of the founders of SADAA Sound Syndicate and is currently releasing ‘Shapeshifting’, a documentary on the electronic music scene in Syria and the Syrian music diaspora, which will be released in May


Nawa Band is a band that is concerned with reviving and propagating muwashahat and Qudud of all forms, and documenting chapters (FUSUL) of inherited (DHIKR) in Syria after having compared the anciently written scripts with the orally passed down identified ones. Nawa Band performs this heritage worldwide in the most integral and sincere form, preserving its purity and spirituality to the highest level.

The band was formed in Aleppo in 2009 by the musician Ibrahim Muslimani. It gathered an elite group of musicians and performers from Syria and worldwide spurred by a passion for performing compositions and chapters from the first half of the 20th century that were either forgotten or misrepresented through time. Nawa selects compositions according to both artistic and historical value, not merely according to ancient relevance, apart from touristic folklore.

The old Syrian composers, both acknowledged and unacknowledged, played a significant role in enriching the musical reminiscence. Our endeavour today is to document and bring their masterpieces back to life and to heartily put them in the hands of the noble audience and musicians. This comes out of a hope to contribute to the rising of a new musical renaissance with genuine and strong roots, a renaissance connecting the present with our glorious past and leading them both to a luminous future.