Alaa Arsheed. Let me tell you my journey from Syria to Italy through the violin

Alaa Arsheed is a Syrian violinist who came to Italy to fulfill a dream: that of playing in Europe. His first album, Sham, is available on Soundcloud.

Sham is violinist Alaa Arsheed’s debut album as well as the ancient Aramaic name of the city of Damascus, the modern capital of his country, Syria. The album is an eight songs-long journey through the musician’s life, which brought him from Syria to Beirut and finally to Italy also thanks to having met Italian actor Vittorio Gassmann (formerly known as Gassman).


Arsheed comes from Suwayda, a city a hundred kilometres from Damascus in Syria’s deep south. Before 2011, year in which the civil war broke out, Arsheed, his parents and his three siblings, who are also musicians, owned and managed an art gallery there, the Alpha.


“We opened in 2006. My father had the idea of creating the first space not linked to the government, just for art. We organised more than 150 exhibitions. It was an amazing place to share, for people to get to know each other, to see art. Cultural life in Suwayda began to change, people felt freer. It was an amazing place,” Arsheed explains.


The winds of the Arab Spring blowing from Tunisia and Egypt reached Syria in March 2011. “People were waiting for change, to change the regime. They started making plans for the future”. A future without Bashar al Assad.


“Inside the café someone wrote ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it'”.


The Arsheed family’s gallery in Suwayda, the Alpha © Alaa Arsheed


But the Alpha didn’t survive the advent of war.


“People came, up to 50 people with sticks. The security forces were watching them, they didn’t do anything. They sent them. They came and they took revenge on art, art was the problem for them. No matter what it represented. They even burnt books and sang songs for Assad”.


“My dad had to close the gallery. And then they arrested him for a month”.


The Alpha gallery after it was attacked by a mob of fifty people © Alaa Arsheed


War was in the air and Arsheed had to leave Syria though his parents stayed behind. He moved to the Lebanese capital Beirut together with his brother and two sisters, earning a living by teaching music to children.


In Lebanon Arsheed met Gassmann, who wanted him to take part in his documentary Torn produced in cooperation with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The film tells of the lives and hopes of Syrian artists in Jordan and Lebanon.


Thanks to a tweet by Gassmann in which the actor mentioned Arsheed and his dream to play music in Europe, Fabrica, a communications research centre in Treviso offering scholarships to people from around the world, invited the violinist to Italy, where he arrived in June.


“I spent two months composing music in the Fabrica studio with two other musicians”. And so Sham was borne.


Arhseed explains how his debut album, which you can listen to on Souncloud, celebrates Damascus, “one of the oldest cities in the world. The area east of the Mediterranean sea, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan was really beautiful. Now it’s miserable but before it was really beautiful. It’s good to touch on that period of time”.

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He’s already thinking about his next project. “I want to rebuild the gallery again in Europe, maybe even in Italy, and open a publishing house to translate Syrian books into English and Italian. To rebuild the dream again, have my father and mother here as a family”.


Alaa Arsheed’s enthusiasm and joyfulness break out like a river hugging the sea at its delta. Even though he’s had to leave his home and family, he continues in his quest to build a better future for his country through the language he knows best, that of music.

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