The Memory of Throats: Songs and Melodies of the Syrian Revolution and Its Prominent Artists

"Alas... Bullets raining on unarmed people, alas" – a song that ignited the fervor of Syrians with the first cry for freedom they uttered. This revolutionary piece sung by Samih Choucair in the early days of the uprising in March 2011 laid the foundation for revolutionary singing that accompanied protesters, activists, and revolutionaries through the various stages and upheavals of the revolution. These musical works associated with the revolution and the homeland weren't secondary; they had a pivotal role in kindling enthusiasm and igniting hope in times of recurring disappointments. 

The songs were a powerful driver of determination among the protest youth. The martyr Abdul Basset Al-Sarout, singing among thousands of demonstrators, profoundly impacted sustaining the momentum. The revolutionary songs have persisted till now, but they have expanded beyond the military and humanitarian aspects to focus on resilience. Some songs have touched on the country's social condition. Additionally, many artists have released songs calling for unity and rising above differences, transforming them into a guiding platform with a beautiful artistic hue. 

And since Syrians are renowned for their art and creativity, traditionally singing Aleppo and folk songs, they started to sing their revolution's anthem, glorifying the nation's people and narrating their suffering through various pieces. It became evident how different folk elements in music were harnessed to serve revolutionary art in many regions and cities. Each area had its revolutionary song that became emblematic, commemorating its struggle and resilience. This immortalized the creativity born from the people and their revolution, inscribing their memory through their people's voices. This report highlights the revolution's prominent artists and songs that became popular among Syrians. 

The First Song: "Alas (Ya Hayif)" 

The Syrian poet and singer Samih Choukeir dedicated the song "Ya Hayif" at the beginning of the Syrian revolution to the martyrs of the city of Daraa and its children, who were the first to rise against the Assad regime. Known for his passionate songs like "Live Free or Die" and "The Mask Fell," Choukeir's revolutionary songs became timeless pieces, resonating across Arab countries and becoming a melody on everyone's lips. Regarding "Ya Hayif," Choukeir said, "The scenes we witnessed in the early days shocked me. 'Ya Hayif' came out within two hours after thoroughly verifying what was happening because the matter was very serious." 

The Syrian singer adds, "I picked up the oud, the words flowed, the melody emerged. The next day, I recorded it and uploaded it to YouTube. We woke up to an incredible number of views for the song. People sang it in the streets, squares, protests, and mosques." 

Samih Choukeir's singing wasn't limited to the Syrian revolution alone; he also sang for the Arab Spring and its various stages. He sang for the Sudanese revolution that ousted Omar al-Bashir's regime and released a new song titled "Sudanese Joy." Choukeir shared on his Facebook page, "My new song dedicated to the great Sudanese people, with all pride and love," emphasizing that the song was his own creation regarding lyrics, music, and vocals. 

Oh, Tears in My Eyes, Well up! 

Wasfi Massarani, the Syrian revolutionary singer, supported the people's uprising and always attended all events or incidents of the revolution since the beginning of the movement in Daraa. Massarani says, 'Anger overwhelmed me when I saw the blood of the people of Daraa flowing, and I found myself composing and singing "Daraa is calling out," to relieve my pain, especially as I see some Syrians continuing their lives normally while another Syrian city is being violated.' This was when Massarani began narrating the history of the revolution through his voice and melodies. 

Massarani became known in Syria for his song 'Oh, tears in my eyes, well up for the martyrs of Syria and its youth,' a song that accompanied the protests and remained tied to the revolutionaries to this day. Despite living in the Czech Republic since 2000, Massarani has stood by his Syrian people. While some artists in Syria sang for the one who killed and humiliated the people, Wasfi described the protesters as the makers of him 'as a singer for the revolution. After releasing the first song, many of them contacted me, urging me to continue due to the void left by the majority of Syrian artists standing with the regime.' Massarani participated in many celebrations supporting the Syrian revolution abroad in Europe and some Arab countries. His songs have been added to the creative memory of the Syrian revolution, commemorating the movement and the uprising. Some of his notable songs include 'Sign of Victory,' 'The Dream of Martyrdom,' and 'Raise Your Spirits.' 

O Syria, Don't Mark Us Absent 

In 2011, with the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, the emerging Syrian singer Khater Dawa was residing in Cairo for studies. However, Dawa didn't delay in joining the revolution, albeit from his place in Cairo. He employed his voice and abilities to express his yearning to return to his country and participate in the revolutionary movement. He sang 'O Syria, Don't Mark Us Absent.' Dawa says, 'The youth in the revolution performed miracles inside Syria, so we had to support them and be the voice for those whose voices couldn't reach Syria. We also expressed our dreams of changing the regime because as long as the country's system is ideological, it means there's no equality or justice. 

Amid what happened in the revolution, the disappointments, setbacks, and the regime's return to control many aspects, Dawa considers that the song remains despite the regime. He explains, 'As long as there are songs released by artists every day, this is a victory for the song and the revolution. As long as we can sing, play music, and express musical ideas, it's not just a victory against the Syrian regime and its supporters but against anyone who aims to erase Syria, its people, and its land from the map... Syria is a song resistant to silence.' 

Dawa released his first music album in 2014, titled 'We Are the Sunrise,' featuring nine songs reflecting the Syrian revolution and nostalgia for Damascus. He also gained fame with the song 'What is Your Relationship to Hamza,' inspired by the child Hamza Al-Khatib, who was killed under torture by the Syrian regime in its detention centers. 

If I Come to You, Oh Mother, Martyred, Sing Cheerfully 

Many of the Syrian revolutionary songs emerged as a result of the creativity born from the heart of the revolution, showcasing new talents that took on a mystical nature during the demonstrations. Those who led the chants became singers, turning their voices into melodies and meanings of the revolution. Such was the case of the martyr Abd al-Basit al-Sarout, who ignited the revolution with his enthusiasm and inscribed the annals of the immortals with his voice. It's worth noting that Sarout wasn't a singer or a musician; he was a goalkeeper for a football team. 

Abd al-Basit al-Sarout didn't need complexity in his songs, poems, or chants; they were simple and straightforward, expressing the situation and narrating the story with his stern tone. Often, he didn't rely on a composer or songwriter, drawing heavily from folk and popular songs. Sarout's martyrdom brought a renewed presence and significance to his songs, transforming them into a historical account narrating his life story. In one of his songs, he addressed his mother, urging her to endure upon receiving news of his martyrdom. 

Abd al-Basit al-Sarout'snotable song was "Our Homeland is Heaven," which he modified by incorporating the names of Syrian cities. He chanted for every city and sang about events he witnessed, becoming a symbol. Even in the final days of his life, he didn't limit himself to the Syrian revolution; he sang for Egypt and saluted the revolutions in Sudan and Algeria: "Algeria has risen, its free people are marching, Khartoum is shouting, we are here for you... and we stand hand in hand." 

Abu Maher Saleh and  Ahmed Al-Qasim 

From Eastern Ghouta emerged Abu Maher Saleh, known as "The Revolution's Singer," singing the essence of the revolution in his songs. His singing style was characterized by a unique blend of ballads, folk tunes, and zajal. Saleh witnessed and portrayed all phases of the revolution, singing for various regions, which earned him widespread recognition across Syria. He also took part in one of the series produced amid the siege of Eastern Ghouta, playing a role as both a singer and a chanter. 

As he sings a variety of themes, the singer Abu Maher Saleh said, "I embodied the events of the Syrian revolution in my voice, like the days of the siege of Eastern Ghouta, the internal strife of factions, Abbas Al-Nouri's statements against the leader Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, the disappearance of Wissam al-Tair, and other events. I compose songs based on the Syrian reality, and these works are part of the peaceful activism carried out by the Syrian youth." Saleh added, "We haven't yet reached a professional level in these new art forms due to the lack of support, funding, and the absence of organizations supporting the field of art. However, it still has a wide audience." 

Saleh gained recognition when he was displaced from Eastern Ghouta towards Idleb province. Media outlets affiliated with the regime surrounded him while he was on the bus, seeking a statement about the displacement and urging him to stay in Eastern Ghouta under the regime's control. However, he replied, "Once I find that Syria belongs to everyone, not just the Assad regime. I will come back." 

In that same vein, the singerأغاني-العرس-الفلّاحي-في-العراق-والشام from Hauran, Ahmed Al-Qasim, emerged. He sang for the revolution in Daraa with a powerful voice, gaining fame throughout Syria after being known within the governorate of Daraa for performing at weddings within the small city's borders. Al-Qasim's name became associated with the Syrian uprising after the song "My Eyes on Her." His popularity increased as a folk singer due to his opposition to the Syrian regime. His songs accompanied every move of the Free Syrian Army and its battles against the regime. Known for his high enthusiasm, his songs narrated the story of the initial revolution. The revolutionary folk song gained weight among the people due to its simplicity and familiar musical style used on various occasions. 

The revolution became known for its diverse arts, and among them was music and singing, drawing its creativity from the liberation of expression and a burst of innovation. Alongside various arts, these became tools to immortalize sacrifices and narrate stories, ensuring the revolution wasn't lost to time. These songs, like those of the Palestinian uprising, remain etched in our memory, depicting the heroism and sacrifices of the uprising. They persist primarily in glorifying humanity and its freedom to express reality and its tragedies, far from producing cheap songs that idolize leaders and their entourages. 

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