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October 23, 2013

Syrian-American composer performs at the Berman

By Cari DeLamielleure-Scott
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
During a performance at the Berman, Malek Jandali on the piano, middle; Abdulrahim Alsiadi on the oud, left; and Aliah Ajamoughli on the cello smile as they finish playing a piece written with ancient Syrian melodies.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Award-winning Syrian American composer and pianist Malek Jandali performed a one-night-only performance Sunday, Oct. 13, at the Berman Center of Performing Arts to help Syrian children.

His humanitarian tactics are well known throughout the Arab community, and he stated that the point of “The Voice of the Free Syrian Children” project is “an attempt using art and music as a universal message to gather a community to fight all odds to save a child.”

Master of Ceremonies John Akouri, who is the president and CEO of the Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce in Birmingham, opened the evening with a powerful message about Jandali’s performance.

“Tonight, this production is dedicated to the children of Syria. … Some of those children are not with us this evening — their lives cut short with men without conscience, boys with toys, butchers with knives and monsters with gas. But those children that remain, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that they have a long and meaningful life,” he said.

Jandali’s concert, which was sponsored by UNESCO; Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution and Human Rights; and the American Task Force on Palestine, was well attended by local residents, and state and world leaders.

Included in the audience was Deputy Consul General of Mexico Vicente Colmenares Sumano, Consul General of Chile Mariela Griffo, Consul General of Turkey Nurten Ural, state Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Hussein Ibish with the American Task Force on Palestine.

Jandali was born in Germany but attended school in his hometown of Homs, Syria. While in school, he was forced to chant and memorize regime slogans, but after school, he would return home to a family that was against the regime.

He started as a classical pianist and attended school in the U.S. on a scholarship, learning the academic side of music, and switched his studies to composition. His concert pianist career began in 1988, when he won first prize at the National Young Artists competition. Since then, he has performed his own music using Syrian folk tunes and ancient melodies all over the world.

Net proceeds from the benefit concert were dedicated to orphaned and vulnerable Syrian children.

“Over 12,000 children have been massacred by the dictator,” Jandali said. “What is more immoral and inhumane than killing a child? Being silent about it can be, but it just breaks my heart. … Let’s unite in humanity to help the Syrian children.”

The benefit concert opened with speeches about his humanitarian efforts by Akouri and Hussein Ibish, senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, but it was Jandali’s first piece that brought peace and stillness to the audience — John Cage’s 4’33”.

“Music is the epic of freedom. It’s in the air. You’re not going to see music. You’re going to feel it,” Jandali said.

In addition to his live performance, music videos including images of Syria were played, and pictures of Syrian children were projected behind the piano. Before each song, Jandali paid respect to the children, who he said are a sign of hope and freedom, by looking at every photograph.

“I had some tears in my eyes seeing the highlight of the tragedy in Syria and the suffering of the Syrian children,” said Yahya Basha, West Bloomfield resident. “That presentation was perfect of how the music and the art and humanity is all over the place in a beautiful setting. And I thank the community center for allowing us in and having the event here.”

Akouri said that the benefit concert would not have happened without the efforts of Basha.

In addition to awards given to Jandali by the American Task Force on Palestine, Akouri presented Jandali with a certificate of appreciation on behalf of West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Michele Economou Ursete for his humanitarian work.

“I would like, with the permission of the mayor, to dedicate the honor of her award to the children of Syria,” Jandali said upon receiving the award.

In an interview before the performance, Jandali said he dedicates his performance and his music to the listeners.

“May you find harmony, love and peace,” he said.

In 2011, Jandali performed a piece he composed in a peaceful demonstration in front of the White House. Within 72 hours, he said, the dictatorship regime in Syria sent people after his parents, and his father and mother were brutally beaten in their home.

“They’re lucky that they weren’t killed like a quarter-million other Syrians that have been killed.”

His parents, who he got out of Syria, attended his concert at the Berman.

“This is not entertainment. Some may think, oh this is just a concert, but there is a difference between entertainment and serious art,” Jandali said. “You can kill the musician but you cannot kill the music. You can kill the revolutionists and the peaceful children, but you cannot kill the humanity in their heart and the peaceful revolution in their heart for children.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cari DeLamielleure-Scott at cdelamielleure@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1093.