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Syrian-American musicians raise voices as homeland suffers

Electronic artist and musician Samer Saem Eldahr
DETROIT: When Samer Saem Eldahr finished university, he was ready to spread his wings and start his career. He planned a month away from home to discover and pursue his craft.
It is a similar story to many college graduates, with a notable exception: There would be no realistic option to return from Lebanon to his home in Aleppo, Syria, which was descending into war. He left behind his music and art studio containing most of his equipment and paintings.
Five years on, Eldahr has been rebuilding his life and art as a permanent US resident, living in Minneapolis with his wife and a child on the way. Under the name Hello Psychaleppo, he recently completed an album and is playing shows, including one Friday at the Arab American National Museum in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn.
Hello Psychaleppo is among several Syrian-American acts on the road, sharing music and messages about their homeland as the conflict rages on. The Arab museum on Monday will host Amplify Peace, a national tour presented by the Syrian American Medical Society. The concert, which aims to raise money for Syrian relief efforts, includes rapper/poet Omar Offendum, funk and soul outfit Bassel & The Supernaturals and others.
Eldahr combines styles just as he does worlds. He describes his sound as “electro-tarab,” blending electronic music with the ethos of “tarab,” an Arabic word describing music’s emotional, ecstatic effect often associated with traditional artistic forms.
“I tried my best to separate those two worlds, my music and life ... but at a certain point they do meet,” he said.
In performance, he uses synthesizers, not traditional Arab instruments, but manipulates them to provide the “microtones” — pitches between those found in Western scales and common in Middle Eastern music — by using an effects machine called a “talk box.”
“I’m trying to find the link between our music memory back home and the new modern tools and what can adapt,” he said.
Offendum, a Syrian who was born in Saudi Arabia and came to the US in the mid-1980s as a young boy, also feels deeply connected to his parents’ birthplace. However, he said, the crisis should concern everybody: Some 5 million Syrians have fled their homeland since conflict there erupted in 2011, including his relatives.