AMSTERDAM: Last Sunday, visitors of the open-air theater in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark embarked on a musical journey with the Dutch-Syrian band Dyar, Arabic for “home.”
“In the Netherlands we often separate music into different genres, but with Dyar we’ve created an imaginary house where people feel at home, where everyone is welcome, and where Arabic and Western music live together,” Lucas Dols, the band’s double bassist, told Arab News.
The diverse repertoire revolves around the themes of cherished memories and nostalgic sentiments, in which the band blends traditional Arab melodies with elements from jazz, hip hop and other Western music genres.
Their single “A Thousand and One Nights Like This,” released in 2017 after the band was formed, captures this essence: a mix of Lebanese singer Umm Kulthum’s “A Thousand and One Nights,” and famous Dutch pop singer Caro Emerald’s “A Night Like This.”
Growing up in different worlds, Dols and the three other Syrian band members — vocalist and oud player Nawras Altaky, percussionist Modar Salama and clarinetist Ghaeth Almaghoot — found a deep connection by sharing their love for music.
“I can travel anywhere in the world without speaking the language because with music, you touch people directly in the heart. Music has no miscommunication,” Altaky told a Dutch broadcaster.
During the performance, Almaghoot emphasized Dyar’s aim to raise awareness for oppressed people worldwide.
In their song “Autumn Nights,” Altaky sings about the mountains of As-Suwayda in southwestern Syria, reminiscing about his Arab roots.
Dols adds the bass instrument, which he said is not typically found in traditional Arabic music.
This way, Dyar’s music is more relatable to those in the Netherlands and broader Western audiences, he added.
Dols also founded the organization Sounds of Change in 2017. Prompted by the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011 and a sense of helplessness, he felt the need to take action.
Starting with his own project of creating music in a Jordanian refugee camp in 2012, the organization now uses music to enable social change and stimulate creativity, connection, trust and empowerment in refugee camps and marginalized areas in the Middle East and North Africa. Sounds of Change focuses on Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Turkiye, Iraq and Palestine.
“Music changes the world because it changes people,” is the organization’s ethos, with a belief that music can serve as a coping mechanism and has the power to channel even the most complex emotions.
Consequently, the emphasis is on using sounds as opposed to words. “Using music is a way to express yourself when you can’t find the words to do so,” said Dols.
Thus, the intention is not to ask “how do you feel,” but rather to “playfully express what’s going on inside you.”
Training local community-builders is the key element in the organization’s approach of developing music-education programs aimed at bringing change to the humanitarian field.
“They’re the ones on the ground. They speak the language and know the cultural context the best,” Dols said.
Next week, he and his team will leave for a two-week trip to Iraq and Syria, where they will collaborate with their local networks on music-therapy initiatives.