Al Bidayeh

Syriana, 2010

It is said that Damascus - old Damascus, the 7,000-year-old capital of Syria - is a bit like a veiled woman who keeps her beauty hidden. Get close, and you're dazzled. In this labyrinthine city whole worlds of activity exist behind closed doors. Sights and sounds are imbued with an almost sensual power. Calls to prayer echo alongside music that has sweeping scope and epic punch; music that keeps the past alive as it surges, wave-like, into the future. Eastern music. Western music. A compelling fusion of both.

Having experienced her splendour and worked closely with her artisans, Syriana presents Al Bidayeh (The Beginning), an EP that brings this cryptic Middle Eastern metropolis to the world. Four tracks, four different takes: Gharibb (Stranger), a sung meditation on notions of home. Road to Damascus, with its call-and-response vocals and swelling strings. Syriana, which nods to movie themes and Fifties Arabia, to great divas Fairuz and Abdel Halim. Sunday/Randall and Hopkirk Deceased/Peter's Room, part improvisation, part Sixties TV theme tune on qanun (Arabic dulcimer), piano and guitar.

Syriana is where ancient civilisations and Eastern aspirations vie and blend with Cold War iconography and Western stereotypes. Where boundaries are dismantled. From London to Berlin, Istanbbul to Damascus. Where coming together feels effortless, significant and inspired.

Reviews

  • A four track EP of immense beauty... Traditional sounds entwined with modern day electronic trickery with musicians and vibes from London to Berlin, Istanbul to Damascus, this is a truly international release. Effortless, significant and inspired; Check it! Leftfield: (UK)
  • Debut performance for Syriana - WOMAD Charlton Park Festival 2010 ...every good Womad needs a debut performance, and this year it came from Syriana, the Middle Eastern fusion band formed by Nick Page of Dub Colossus. Mysteriously, it included no Syrians, but there were swirling soundscapes from Algerian violinist Mounir Baziz, and rousing vocals and oud work from Palestinian Nizar al-Issa. The best songs were the most experimental, driven on by Page's guitar work. This is a band to watch. - Robin Denselow The Guardian (UK)
  • (Al Bidayeh) This four-track EP makes a juicy taster for autumn's album. Founded by world music stalwarts Bernard O'Neill and Nick Page, Syriana is both a group and an imaginary realm where the music of the Middle East meets western film scores. The Arabic dulcimer (gunun) is the focal point, but the palette includes swaying string sections, surf guitars, jazzy bass and Damascus divas. The soundscapes are of dusty plains and busy city streets with a dash of cold war menace in the mix - hence a take on the Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) theme that will thrill John Barry fans. This four-track EP makes a juicy taster for autumn's album. - Neil Spencer The Observer (UK)