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Syrian Composer-Turned-Activist Asks Americans For Support


As the conflict in Syria rages, a pianist named Malek Jandali has turned to composing to express his sorrow. He was one of the first Syrian artists living abroad to openly criticize the Assad regime, not long after an uprising swept across his homeland. Jessica Jones from North Carolina Public Radio shares how he found his voice through music.

JESSICA JONES, BYLINE: In 2011, Malek Jandali was visiting his family in Syria. There he witnessed the early stages of a rebellion that resulted in the detainment and torture of many young Syrians. When Jandali returned to the U.S., he sat down at the piano and poured his heart out in a song.

MALEK JANDALI: And I started in a very melancholic, sad minor key.


JANDALI: I was just actually pouring my thoughts and my melodies and my passion and just making music. I was just inspired by those kids and by what's going on back home.

JONES: As an orchestral composer, Jandali had never put words to music before. He decided to call the song "Watani Ana" or "I Am My Homeland." Recorded in 2011, it featured Palestinian and Iraqi singers as soloists.


SALMA HABIB: (Singing in foreign language).

JONES: That song marked the beginning of the soft-spoken composer's turn toward activism. In addition to writing more music about the conflict in his homeland, Jandali is also on a concert tour that asks audiences to contribute to humanitarian organizations helping children in Syria. He performed recently at Duke University.


JANDALI: You don't need anything else but stop the war, have a no-fly zone, protect the children so we can have peace, justice and accountability.


JONES: Local musicians and singers participated in the concert. North Carolina State University music professor Jonathan Kramer accompanied Jandali on the cello.


JONATHAN KRAMER: The cello is of my own heart turned outward. And the opportunity that I have to play this music with this man under these circumstances is a way to express my own deep love for music and humanity and my deep sorrow that things are the way they are in the world.

JONES: Members of the audience said they were moved by the performance. Rebecca Jouben is a professor at Davidson College just outside Charlotte.

REBECCA JOUBEN: I think that he speaks to our conscience. This is a tragedy before our eyes. It's not something we're reading about in history books. It's right before our eyes.

JONES: According to the U.N., more than 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict. Jandali's parents were severely beaten when their home was invaded by what he says were government thugs just three days after the first live performance of "Watani Ana" in the United States. They are in the U.S. now.

JANDALI: So I thought, oh, my God, you know, this little, tiny song is actually shaking an entire regime back home. For them to send their soldiers to beat my parents, is this how powerful music is? And from that moment, I was just on fire to do more.

JONES: Jandali has posted politically charged works on his website and YouTube. They're set to compositions from his latest album called "Emessa," the ancient Greek name for his hometown of Homs, Syria.


JONES: The next stops on Jandali's concert tour include performances in Sweden and the United Kingdom. For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Durham, North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jessica Jones covers both the legislature in Raleigh and politics across the state. Before her current assignment, Jessica was given the responsibility to open up WUNC's first Greensboro Bureau at the Triad Stage in 2009. She's a seasoned public radio reporter who's covered everything from education to immigration, and she's a regular contributor to NPR's news programs. Jessica started her career in journalism in Egypt, where she freelanced for international print and radio outlets. After stints in Washington, D.C. with Voice of America and NPR, Jessica joined the staff of WUNC in 1999. She is a graduate of Yale University.
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