Opening Night: Aleppo Flows Through Us 


Date: 11 May 2023
Venue: Grand Junction
Rowington Close, London, W2 5TF
Time: 19:oo
Tickets: £15
Wheelchair accessible (contact venue for further details)

Event Info

Join us for our opening night,  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, our 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 people and A place steeped in the love of musical ecstasy: Tarab.

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 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 researcher, 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 pieces of Nawa Band‘s 2021 album Wasl and songs of Aleppo traditional music.

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

This evening is curated by Yamen Mekdad.

This event is co-produced by Zamakan and Marsm in partnership with Grand Junction, and is supported using public funding by Arts Council England. Special thanks to Nefes Foundation for Arts and Culture.

Ibrahim Muslimani

Ibrahim Muslimani, teacher, author and percussionist, is an expert specializing in the Syrian musical heritage, especially the traditional music of Aleppo, and the subject of the well-known documentary film: Wajd: Songs of Separation. Ibrahim studied with prominent Syrian and Turkish music masters such as Hassan Bassal, Zuheir Meniny, Mohammad Fateh Abu Zaid, Saif al-Din Zain al-Abidin, and Mustafa Büyükipekçi.

Ibrahim started his first musical project in 2009 by founding the Nawa Band to revive and disseminate the oral heritage of Muwashahat and Qudud, and chant chapters of Dhikr for documentation, preservation and publishing purposes.

His band released two albums. The first was released in 2014 from the USA in cooperation with “Lost Origin Productions”, titled:

NAWA – Ancient Sufi Invocations & Forgotten Songs from Aleppo.

The second is the WASL Book and Album, released from Turkey in 2021 with the support of the Arab Fund for Culture & Arts, AFAC (Music Grant) and Nefes Foundation for Arts & Culture.

Ibrahim has been the founder and director of the Nefes Foundation for Arts & Culture in Gaziantep, Turkey, since 2016.

Ibrahim studied Cinema Direction and graduated from the Fine Arts Faculty, the Department of Cinema & TV at Gaziantep University, Turkey, in 2019.

He participated in many local and international activities, festivals, and musical and cultural workshops in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Sweden, France, Denmark, Norway, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Recently, Ibrahim participated in panel discussions and concerts in the UK at King’s College London and the University of Oxford with the support of the British Council’s Creative Collaboration programme under the theme: Linkages and Differences in the Muwashahat Traditions between Aleppo and Cairo in the 20th Century and collaboration with the Oxford Maqam Ensemble.

Ibrahim has recently received a grant from the Production Awards Program from Culture Resource (Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy). Through this grant, he is currently working on his new album project: (Breathes from Aleppo), which is planned to be released at the end of 2023.

Hazem Jamjoum

Hazem Jamjoum 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

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’. That work led her to complete an MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the University of Oxford Department of International Development in 2017 and a TEDx talk in Birmingham, AL. Dunya is the daughter of Syrian immigrants to the United States. Her dual background fuels her interest in Middle Eastern culture, identity politics and migration. She is also a classically trained pianist.

Mohammad Malas

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.

Omar Malas

Omar Malas born in Damascus 1983, Independent photographer and filmmaker directed and filmed several documentaries, living and working in Damascus-Syria.

Tarik Beshir

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 plying 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

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’.

Hanan Alhabash

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.

Prior to joining Nefes Music and Art school, Hanan contributed in 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 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.

Hanan voice-recorded a full recitation of the holy Qur’an, the first recording of its kind done by a child. She also participated in singing and dubbing for a several of children’s cartoon series and educational programs, such as the famous children’s program “Iftah Ya Simsim” in its newest version, the “Detective Kobe” series and the smart speaking doll “Loji”. Hanan has a long experience working as a journalist, producer, and editor in the audiovisual and print press in Damascus, Dubai, Istanbul, and London. She currently resides in the United Kingdom where she studies a master’s degree in documentary journalism.

Yara Salahiddeen

Yara Salahiddeen is an Egyptian-Palestinian singer and researcher who performs a variety of Arabic song traditions. She joined 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 Masters 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.

Bassel Hariri

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 honors. Later he studied the 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 2008 and co-created the Dopamine Jazz quintet 2010. Currently produces electronic music under the name “USTAVI” where he creates a mixed genre of multi-ethnic variations reflecting his migration experience.

Tulip Hazbar

Tulip Hazbar is a graphic designer and illustrator based in the United Arab Emirates.

Yamen Mekdad

Yamen Mekdad is an artist, curator, filmmaker, DJ and radio host based in London. His practice is an 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 endeavors: 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

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.

The name “Nawa” is in line with our musical vision. Nawa is a Maqam name, and it is the fifth note in the musical scale. As in the linguistic meaning, (Nawa) stands for the (Core), the distance and destination and the voyage in between. Therefore, by Nawa, we mean a fine art in which the human travels, body and soul, from one status to another and from one level to a higher one, abandoning ghosts and valuing souls. “Every person will harvest what they intended” – this is what Nawa is about.

Nefes Foundation

Nefes was founded in 2016 by young Syrian and Turkish people specialized in music and arts and was authorized in Turkey in 2017. Nefes believes that artistic and cultural productions are important to the stability and well-being of any society, especially societies that have faced psychological trauma and isolation as well as loss of identity. From this pillar, Nefes believes that education, artistic and cultural production is an essential factor for the recovery and prosperity of societies.

Nefes seeks to present itself as a cultural case that respects and possesses the strength and confidence of our diverse cultural heritage. It draws its inspiration from the cultural and academic knowledge and backgrounds of its team to restore authentic cultural heritage and preserve it away from the trap of museum heritage and touristic folklore. In parallel, Nefes aims at preserving cultural work and its means, and providing new artistic experiences that contribute to its enrichment.