The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians performed rare shows at Southbank Centre on 25 June 2016, with Damon Albarn and guests, presented by Africa Express.
The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, led by principal conductor Issam Rafea, first played with songwriter and producer Damon Albarn at the Damascus Opera House in 2008. Albarn later worked with Rafea and the Orchestra when the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music appeared on the Gorillaz track ‘White Flag’ – which debuted at an Africa Express concert in Paris. The Orchestra, together with Rafea, later joined Gorillaz on their 2010 ‘Escape to Plastic Beach’ World Tour which included shows at the 11th century Citadel in Damascus, Syria, as well as dates in Lebanon and across Europe and North America.
Artists from Britain and Syria were joined by performers from Algeria, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Tunisia and the United States at Southbank Centre. Among those performing were Bassekou Kouyaté, Bu Kolthoum, Eslam Jawaad, Faia Younan, Julia Holter, Lotfi Bouchnak, Malikah, Mounir Troudi, Noura Mint Seymali, Paul Weller, Rachid Taha and TALA. British rappers Kano and Bashy joined The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians when they opened Glastonbury, playing the Pyramid Stage. Other artists, including Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal, who also joined the line up on four more dates in Europe throughout June.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire into spheres of British and French influence, fostered instabilities in the Middle East which continue to cause conflict today. As a result of the current on-going conflict, many Syrian musicians – including Issam Rafea and other members of the Orchestra – have been forced to leave their country. This special concert reunited the Orchestra alongside Albarn and other guest performers to highlight and celebrate the remarkable music and culture of Syria.
Presented by Africa Express and Southbank Centre
Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Holland Festival