Singer ‘Gharib’ may have fled to the Netherlands long ago, but his heart is still in his homeland Syria. Soon after the revolution broke out last year he posted a protest song on YouTube which quickly became a hit. Now he’s recording a professional album with Dutch artists. RNW interviewed ‘Gharib’ in 2011, and now talks with him again about what has changed since then.
For Gharib (“Stranger”), music was always the medium to express his opposition to the Syrian regime. After being arrested and detained several times because of his protest songs, he fled Syria for the Netherlands more than 15 years ago. He is still careful not to reveal his real name. “My family is still there, and the regime does not hesitate to take revenge on someone’s family if they cannot get to the person concerned. Besides, it is not about me, it is about the message.”
Pots and pans
Once settled in the Netherlands, Gharib’s music became less important and his song-writing dried up. Last year, like many other Syrians in exile, he watched the events in his country with mounting dismay. Unable to join the protests against the Assad regime, Gharib turned back to his music to express his feelings.
He and a few friends made a first hasty video: “We started off banging pots and pans from the kitchen,” says Gharib. “That was because we wanted to do something quickly, but also to show people in Syria that everyone can participate. Also those who were afraid to go out on the streets.” The message seemed to find an audience as there were at least two “noise” demonstrations in 2011 in different parts of Syria where people gathered on rooftops to bang pots and pans.
Do not hide your face from us
This was quickly followed by another musical protest video. A song that repeated the phrase bidna nshilak (we want to drive you out). “We wanted to emphasise that all Syrians were united in this one wish.” His song was seen by Dutch artists who wanted to support his protest and in April 2012, Gharib made a second song together with Dutch producer Pim van de Werken.
This time Gharib’s song was directed to the outside world: Do not hide your face from us, antum ayn. “At first, some people in Syria did not like the idea that I was making people feel sorry for them,” says Gharib. “But later on they understood that I just wanted people everywhere to be aware of what was happening, to ask themselves where they were standing.” Although the song is written for Syria, “the text can be applied to any situation where people are suffering”.
Syria and the West
Gharib thinks the call on Syrian artists to make their positions known is justified, although he is aware that well-known people can be an easy target. “If there had been more coordinated calls from the start, maybe it would have been easier for ordinary people to speak up too.”
The singer is often surprised by the reactions to the Syrian crisis in the West. “I try to explain to them what is really happening. That it started as a peaceful protest. And that it is not sectarian strife, even though there are incidents.” Like many others, the singer is worried about the direction events in Syria are taking.
The idea that Assad’s regime will eventually fall and that he will be able to return to his home country is “a sort of dream”. A dream Gharib doesn’t quite dare to believe in. “I do not want to wish for something that is not realistic.”
Click here to listen to Antom Ayn!