Unlike in the west, much of the Middle East’s musical history never quite made the jump to digital, and as such numerous gems on both vinyl and cassette have been lost to time, only making their way online due to the hard work and diligence of selectors and archivists.
SYRIAN CASSETTE ARCHIVES is a forthcoming multifaceted project launched with the aim of archiving, preserving, and sharing a vast collection of over 400 musical cassette-tapes, collected by archivist Mark Gergis in Syria between the years 1997 and 2010. The collection contains remnants from Syria’s 'cassette era', and features a range of recordings including live wedding concerts, studio albums, soloists, classical, religious, patriotic songs as well as children’s music, with a special focus on regional dabke and shaabi folk-pop. Collecting and archiving such audio artifacts is the culmination of “decades of on-site research and personal connections with Syrian music shops, producers and musicians.”
Mark Gergis and the SYRIAN CASSETTE ARCHIVES team worked closely with Syrian communities in multiple countries around the globe in order to present evidence of an eclectic and diverse pre-war Syria, highlighting the breadth of regional and ethnic musical styles including those of Syrian Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds, Armenians, and Iraqis in Syria who fled in the wake of the US/UK-led war and sanctions of the 2000s. Among the plethora tapes set to debut along with the archive, the project’s instagram page has teases rare selections from Assyrian singer Juliana Jendo, Nejoum Al Furuat -- a compilation of songs from the Der El Zor region of Eastern Syria -- , as well as rare cassettes issued by Al Naki Sound in Damascus during the early 1990s.
Despite myriad sectarian and political divides resulting from the Syrian crisis, this music has remained a unifying bond for Syrians.
The project is set to launch as an interactive online database, a podcast and radio series featuring interviews and curated portions of the archive, public presentations, as well as a multi-format music compilation album set to release sometime in the future. Much of the music featuring in the SYRIAN CASSETTE ARCHIVES are likely to be difficult to find again, given the ongoing war in Syria and the exodus of many musicians and producers from the country, as well as others who have experienced internal displacement. Syria's musical infrastructure and traditions have been disrupted by the war, as such there is an urgency to preserve this facet of contemporary music heritage for Syrians and the wider world alike.
The hope is that through its documentation, evidence of Syria’s diverse communities and their musical heritage can help reduce the cultural amnesia and loss that can arise from losing artistic histories.
Though the archive has yet to go live, SYRIAN CASSETTE ARCHIVES will be presenting a special 60-minute curated mix with video accompaniment for the UK’s TUSK Festival 2020, and the set will go live on the 30th of September at 1AM GMT.
This article was originally published on Scene Arabia's sister site SceneNoise.