With so many narratives of tragedy and trauma coming out of the refugee crisis unfolding across much of the Middle East and Europe, it can be hard to find uplifting stories. But as demonstrated by a recent article on the Syrian band Khebez Dawle, which was published in The Guardian by Naomi Larsson, these alternative histories are readily available to those seeking them.
Khebez Dawle is a band made up of Syrian refugees living in Europe. Based in Berlin (where the band members are applying for asylum), Khebez Dawle has received invitations to play all over Europe. The group has performed for large crowds in Zagreb, Croatia, and has high hopes of touring London next summer.
In The Guardian article, Anas Maghrebi, a twenty-six-year-old refugee and co-founder of Khebez Dawle, notes that, under Bashar al Assad’s rule, Syria has little to offer musicians at present, and that the country’s civil war has made music a hazardous occupation:
War-torn Syria had been a “dead end” for musicians, says Maghrebi. After the protest against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, the country had collapsed into bitter civil war. When the drummer of his original band, Rabea, was killed in 2012, it was clear there was little hope for artistic freedom. “Our friend was a peaceful activist; all of us at some point participated in the protests but he was the most serious one. He was helping, not just participating,” Maghrebi says. “These were some dark times for us, because the dream vanished away.”
Following the murder of one of his bandmates, Maghrebi left Syria and traveled to Lebanon, where many refugees have ended up. He remained there from 2013 to August of this year, partaking in the formation of Khebez Dawle in the interim. Along with band members Muhammad Bazz, Bashar Darwish, and Hikmat Qassar, Maghrebi saw some success with Khebez Dawle in Lebanon.
As Larsson notes, in August, Bazz, Darwish, Qassar, and Maghrebi sold their instruments and paid a smuggler to take them from Lebanon to Europe. Along with over a dozen other men, the band took a small dinghy to the Greek island of Lesbos. Upon arrival, they distributed albums to volunteers waiting on the beach, and attracted considerable attention. Maghrebi described the voyage across the Mediterranean Sea as enjoyable, something which might surprise readers.
Since arriving in Europe, Khebez Dawle has become a small-scale sensation. Things are also looking up for the band’s members, who are excited to be making music freely again. But engaging with their new European audiences remains a top priority for the band:
[The next album] explores refugees’ personal battles: a reflection of young Syrian people experiencing life away from home, and how you deal with a strange country, a new place, and new people.
Through their music, Khebez Dawle wants to share the stories of migrants desperately seeking refuge, with the hope of cutting down barriers between Europe and the Syrian people. The band members, now in Berlin applying for asylum, used crowdfunding to buy equipment, and have plans for a European tour next year. They hope to do a couple of dates in London in the summer.
“With the band we have a responsibility to speak, to tell Europeans about the other Syrians who are not heard,” Maghrebi says. “For me it’s much more important than just playing music in clubs and dancing – all these cliches – it’s much more than that. It’s about being responsible for spreading the word. We got to play music in front of different cultures, different nationalities and we made sure that the language barrier is not a barrier anymore.”
Khebez Dawle’s members are a testament to the power of music. In both raising awareness about the plight of Syrians and fostering ties between Europeans and refugees, Khebez Dawle is doing truly remarkable things. Its music deserves to be heard.