If it’s true that great music comes from hardship, it should be no surprise that a rapper from one of the deadliest places on earth is making his voice heard.
Entire towns and villages in the northern Syrian province of Idlib have been emptied in the past few months as thousands have fled a brutal offensive by Russian and Syrian government forces. Some 3 million civilians are trapped there, many living in tents or sleeping under trees, with little hope of escape from the coming onslaught. Last month, children were being killed at a rate of one a day.
The suffering he witnessed in his hometown inspired rapper Amir “ALMUARRI” to take aim at Syria’s warring parties in his song “On All Fronts”. The track is a blistering attack on every major player in the Syrian war, from Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Syrian government to the jihadi groups that hold sway in Idlib.
“I felt a strong need to react to what’s happening in the liberated northwest Syria, from the struggles of civilians due to the bombings and the Russian-Syrian government offensive on Idlib, to the abuses carried out by the factions against civilians,” says 20-year-old Amir.
The song gives a voice to those rarely heard in the Syrian civil war. Amir is among the many civilians who have found themselves caught in a battle between extremists on both sides. And he is not alone. More than 60 Idlib residents appear alongside him in the video, which was filmed in destroyed towns across the province during August and September. In doing so, all of them put themselves at risk of reprisals from local armed groups and government forces.
“This is the playground of the Russian leader, where you have to choose between the regime and al-Qaeda,” Amir raps in Arabic in the chorus. “Pick their side and you’ll be safe from their rockets. Now see how much talk at Sochi was able to stop it” – referring to peace talks in the Russian coastal city.
The video shows Amir rapping in front of bullet-scarred schools and destroyed buildings, alongside ordinary residents. It has been viewed more than 25,000 times in just a week.
Amir’s love of rap began at an early age, before the war. He grew up in Maarat al-Numan, a town that has traditionally been hostile to the extremist groups that have come to dominate the opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
His generation grew up with the war, and Amir lost many friends along the way.
“So many young people in Idlib have been detained since the beginning of the revolution. Others have joined the ranks of the regime to fight and others have abandoned their studies to work in a certain industry to be able to sustain themselves. Some have abandoned both school and work and joined the ranks of opposition factions to fight against Assad and Russia,” he tells The Independent.
He counts among his influences Tupac Shakur, Tech N9ne, Wu-Tang Clan and Ice Cube. He listens to ShiBoBa, Bu Kolthoum, and Anas Arabi Katbi in Arabic.
“I started to listen to rap music in around 2008, when I was nine. I like the rhythms and the lyrics, especially those that fit onto a particular beat.”
Amir began rapping a little over a year ago. He bought his a microphone, a laptop and some headphones and started to write his own songs.
“My debut was really modest when it comes to sound engineering and production. Some of my friends who live abroad taught me some engineering techniques, mainly via the internet,” he says.
“My music mainly delves into political issues but also social questions and dangers. I also sometimes write for the sake of playing with words, meanings and flows.”
With Idlib threatened by more violence, Amir hopes that his song will reach the ears of those dropping the bombs.
“I hope that the song will reach all the actors who are in control of the security, military and political situation in the northwest, especially those who have the power to halt the attacks targeting us.”
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