Istanbul-based band touring the US for Syria

Istanbul-based band touring the US for Syria

Emilie Kleding Rasmussen – ISTANBUL
Istanbul-based band touring the US for Syria

Photo Credit: Cihan Demirel

Sitting in a car from Sarasota, Florida to Washington D.C., is an enthusiastic, yet exhausted Istanbul-based band on their way to the last show in America.

For 10 days they played shows in New York, North Carolina, Florida, and Washington, D.C. “And everyone seemed to love it,” the band members agreed. Their nationalities are ranging from Syrian and Turkish to Czech, French, and American. Together they are called Country for Syria. 

By blending traditional Middle Eastern tunes with American country music, their mission is to minimize the gap between the two cultures and enlighten Americans on the current conflict in the Middle East and its consequences on the people. Or as the band describes on their Facebook page: “Country music has its origins in the American Civil War. Now, Syria is in the midst of its own civil war.”

According to the Syrian guitarist and vocalist of the band, Bashar Balleh, they have succeeded in opening the eyes of their audience and lessen the gap between the cultures when playing. “The American audience seemed very interested in our message. They asked a lot of questions about Syrians and the refugee crises – and did more than just listen to our music,” he said. 

“Someone actually offered Bashar asylum,” vocalist Owen Harris from the U.S. said. “I think we have definitely reached some new ears when spreading the message about refugees and the conflict and culture in Syria, but we have to wait and see how it ripples and if it has any concrete effect.”

Istanbul-based band touring the US for Syria
Photo Credit: Caroline MJ Dorn

American dissociation 

It was in December last year that Harris and Balleh first started the band, and since then, new members have joined. In their opinion, they “are not just a band” though. They make trips to refugee camps and conflict areas to deliver supplies and donations, play solidarity concerts, and help families in need. Also the money they raise online and at benefit concerts goes directly to refugees and people affected by the conflict. 

“For us this tour is about Syria – and the discourse of America when it comes to refugees,” Harris said, while the band’s American saxophone player, Peter Salvucci, elaborated: “I think a big problem in America is dissociation. Americans do not see the relationship between what they are politically involved in and what that means for the rest of the world.” 

When the U.S. is bombing Syria to pieces, it creates refugees, he said. “People do not make that connection, and I want Americans to pay attention, because that does not get discussed much over there.”

Istanbul-based band touring the US for Syria
Photo Credit: Cihan Demirel

Dreams of touring Europe

Country for Syria’s tour to the American East Coast is their first time, and according to Harris, it really has brought the band together. “We have worked really hard on playing shows every night and getting our music really tight, so hopefully we will be able to make an album, when we get back to Istanbul,” he said.

In the future, the band would also like to make more workshops and Q&A’s after their concerts to engage folks with all kinds of opinions to talk about the political situation.

And then they owe it to their Syrian band member Waddah Aizouki to go on another tour, as he – like many other Syrians – is undocumented and therefore wasn’t able to join the trip to America. 

“We would love to do a European tour where he is with us - but we are looking for sponsors who would help us go there,” Harris said.   

If interested in listening to Country for Syria, they will be performing at CreAtolye in Cihangir, Istanbul, on Nov. 18 and Dec. 10.