When a land is ravaged by war and people of its country are constantly drawn into an unfolding catastrophe, not much can probably lift up their spirits. “Except music,” says 47-year-old musician Simoun Moraych, who teaches drums at the Royal Opera House in Damascus, Syria, and has witnessed his country falling apart during the more than decade-long sectarian civil war. “When the world heard of war and destruction in Syria, even at its peak, when people didn’t go outside their homes because they didn’t want to be harmed, we pulled the tables and chairs out, put out the sheesha at a movable coffee shop and made the place a concert hall. The missiles were hitting not more than 150 meters away and Zarkashen (Ornaments), a band I played with, made music,” says Moraych. No one left the venue, even with the sound of the bombardment tearing through. “Everywhere you went, there was killing, missiles, death and destruction. Then you say that if something bad is to happen, it will happen, so you enjoy a little. During the war in Syria, you will be amazed that we always worked,” says Moraych, adding that things are much better now.
On Saturday, at the Delhi International Jazz Festival organised at Nehru Park, Moraych along with Mohammad Tarek Almiski (bass), George Malek (classical guitar), Iskandarani Ahmad (nai), members of a new band called Fusion, tried to fuse elements from all the music that they’ve heard — Syrian music, Indian music and jazz — and presented a concert. “The common thread is improvisation. We call it the concept of instant composition,” says Moraych, the seniormost and only English-speaking member of the band.
The band has been formed by combining two bands — Zarkashen and The Wood Trio — after the other members of the bands fled Syria. Malek and Ahmad tried to work in Jordan in hotels to make ends meet but returned. Tarek and Moraych stayed back for their parents. “It wasn’t really a national duty to stay back but this is our place. We believed in humanity. We tried to keep things working,” says Moraych, who believes that in a war there is no right or wrong, there are only losers. “Politicians stand out, state their opinions, and people get killed. Look what it’s doing to India and Pakistan,” says Moraych, talking about the aftermath of Pulwama attack
War, according to them, also influences music. “During the first and second world war, the music that came out of it was impacted by the disasters. When you live in the time of war, most things are disfigured. You live in a place that is beautiful and in one or two years, it’s ruined. So it affects. Music finds it, feels it and creates something,” says Moraych, who performed a song called Obsession. “If you listen to the piece, you will see what war has done to traditional music. It has broken everything,” says Moraych, who also played Bollywood, a tune inspired by India.
Syrian musicians, says Moraych, are inspired by Indian musicians as Indian music is similar to Arabic music and comprises microtones. Moraych wrote to the Indian High Commission and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) right after they paid a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi for his 150th birth anniversary and recreated a version of Vaishnav jan toh for the same. “When the ICCR asked me if we could come to India, I immediately said yes,” he says, adding, “Art has a duty in the times of war. It is the only way to bring people together, to make sure that a sense of normalcy can prevail.”