Syrian Prayers

Music Freedom Day | Kulturkirken Jakob

3. mars 2017


Muslimsk og kristen klagesang fra religionenes regnbueland - før et mangfold går i stykker foran øynene på en handlingslammet verden

Mansour Zayter
, sunni-muslimsk syrisk sanger

Kor og liturg fra Den syrisk ortodokse kirke i Bekaa-dalen

Arrangementet foregår i ”Jakobs Brønn”, inngang vil bli skiltet.

Installasjonen ”Gardens Speak” med monologer fra en syrisk gravlund arrangeres i samme lokale fra 23.februar til 8.mars og blir rammen rundt konserten.

Konserten er en releasekonsert for albumet ”Syrian Prayers – Sacred Music From Bilad Al Sham”, produsert av Erik Hillestad, støttet av UD og Music Freedom Day.


Historic Syria – a rainbow region of religions

In Europe, we strive hard to build new national identities based on diversity and pluralism. The new ideal is coexistence in spite of differences seeing variety as a positive force. In historic Syria, people have more than a thousand years of experience in this regard, but now many of the inhabitants in the region seem ready to give up the whole idea.

From the story of the birth of Christ, we know the expression “When Quirinius was governor of Syria”. This expression does not refer to the modern republic of Syria, which since 2011 has been the battleground of one of the cruelest civil wars in modern history. It tells us about another historical region of Syria, “Bilad Al Sham”, which also included Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, parts of Iraq and southern Turkey, also known as the Levant. Sham is the old Arabic name of Damascus, and bilad means ‘homeland’.

Throughout this region, many different ways of worshipping God have co-existed for centuries. It has featured a rainbow of religions – certainly never conflict free – but compared to the present time, a heavenly garden of diverse spirituality.

This incredible diversity is rapidly disappearing. Christians are leaving the area – by the hundreds of thousands – every decade. The Muslim groups are fighting each other. In many places, the Jewish communities have left, most for Israel.

A significant sign of true spirituality and worshipping God is music. I have searched for authentic musical expressions of faith in historic Syria by recording chanted prayers and parts of living liturgies in various mosques and churches.

Many of the hymns and prayers you will hear in this project are ancient, some dating back to the fourth century. The part of the Levant, today covering Syria, Lebanon and northwestern Iraq, is home to more than 20 different Christian denominations and Muslim groups. I have focused on the eight most populous and historically influential ones: the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Armenian Church, The Chaldean Church, The Assyrian Church of the East, the Byzantine tradition, the Maronites, the Shia Muslims and the Sunni Muslims.

For practical reasons, the recordings were done in Lebanon; in Beirut, along the coast and in the Bekaa Valley. These days we find hundreds of thousands of refugees from Iraq, Syria and Palestine blending in with the Lebanese congregations, finding their spiritual home in churches and mosques all over the country. This is possible because the traditions of music, poetry and liturgy is recognizable across the region.

The recordings demonstrate wonderful parts of a unique world heritage that is on the verge of disappearing completely if nothing is done.

On March 3rd, you will be able to experience this for yourself – live, in the crypt of Kulturkirken Jakob, Oslo.

– Erik Hillestad