On Saturday, October 26 at the Kaufman Music Center's Merkin Concert Hall in Manhattan, the well-known Syrian-American pianist Malek Jandali will perform a benefit concert to bolster aid to Syrian children through the organizations Save the Children, UNICEF and others. Seeing an Arab-American artist lead an effort to support his ancestral homeland in a time of crisis recalls the work of the "Little Syria" intellectuals during World War I and the Great Syrian Revolt, and Malek Jandali has been a great supporter of efforts to protect and memorialize this neighborhood's heritage in Lower Manhattan. In anticipation of the upcoming concert and awaiting Malek's visit to an upcoming plaque unveiling in the "Little Syria" neighborhood on October 22, we arranged this interview below.
The scope of suffering in Syria is beyond words to express, yet music at least attempts to engage that which is inexpressible in language. Music reaches us before language can divide us and parse the world. Do you feel that you possess special tools to communicate the suffering in Syria and the need to assist?
I believe that everyone has the tools to help, but each person's tools are different. Mine happen to be music and art, and I feel very blessed and humbled to have the opportunity to use my music to help the children of Syria in this way. It is our duty and moral obligation to use our tools and talents, whatever they may be, to help the most vulnerable of victims and be the voice of those who can not speak for themselves. That is the goal of my new project "The Voice of the Free Syrian Children." I am proud to be part of this collaborative effort between the Rutgers Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights, a UNESCO Chair in Genocide Prevention; the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP); Syrian Christians for Peace (SCP); LIFE USA; and Orient For Human Relief. The project was successfully launched on October 13 with a performance in Detroit where we were presented with a City Proclamation by the Mayor of West Bloomfield, Ms. Michele Economou Ureste. "The Voice of the Free Syrian Children" will continue on to New York City on October 26 at the Merkin Concert Hall, with other U.S. and European cities to follow.
The history of Arab-Americans includes several instances of ethnic Syrians coming together, led by creative artists, to address crises abroad. Do you see your creative and political activities as echoing this history? Who in Arab-American history inspires you?
I do hope that my efforts and attempts continue to be a voice, not just an echo, and help the suffering children of Syria. There are so many Arab-Americans that inspire me, from Edward Said to Ralph Johns (an active participant in the American civil rights movement), to the late journalist Anthony Shadid who sacrificed his life in Syria while covering the revolution. Creativity and innovation thrive with Freedom. One of the most influential figures in modern history was the late Steve Jobs, whose biological father was Abdulfattah Jandali from Homs, Syria.
You have expressed interest in the history of "Little Syria" in Manhattan, especially the early recording industry that involved Alexander Maloof and many others. This scene in New York City captured a snapshot of musical eras that we have no other way to access. What about their productions interest and inspire you, and what do you think that we can learn from their work?
In the 1880s, when immigrants established "Little Syria" on Washington Street, they teamed up and got involved in the community. They adapted to their new American way of life while preserving their traditions, customs and heritage. A vivid example is the adaptation of the Linotype printing machine to produce text in the Arabic alphabet, which helped to spur the growth of journalism in the Arab world.
In 1913, Alexander Maloof composed and recorded a piece called "A Trip to Syria." This is especially poignant to me because it resonates with our never-ending love and longing for our homeland, especially in times like these as we witness the carnage and devastation taking place.
The blending of our traditional Syrian melodies and Arabic maqams with the Western orchestra, to me, is very inspiring and something I attempt to do with my compositions. This is vital because our traditions, culture and music should be documented to ensure they are not lost to the winds of time. In this way, we can re-imagine and re-interpret this traditional music for the new generation of music lovers both in the homeland and here in the United States.
What are your goals for this concert in New York City on October 26? And how can admirers of your work support your emergency campaign?
The goals of "The Voice of the Free Syrian Children" are to raise awareness about the horrific conditions facing the children of Syria and to give them a voice and to help raise funds for humanitarian efforts. Any and all support is greatly appreciated. I encourage everyone to do their homework, find the humanitarian organization that speaks to them, and donate whatever they can in the name of the Syrian children. There are also opportunities to support "The Voice of the Free Syrian Children" project itself so we can keep the message going across the country and the world. All of us, in our own way, should do whatever it takes to save a child! From Greenwich Street at the "Little Syria" plaque unveiling on Tuesday October 22, to Broadway on Saturday, October 26, The Voice of the Free Syrian Children will strike a chord of harmony, love, and peace.
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