Home Within: an audio-visual tribute to Syria

The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC will present an emotional audio-visual performance Home Within by Syrian composer and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh and Syrian-Armenian visual artist Kevork Mourad as a tribute to the Syrian tragedy as part of the Spring 2021 Dot Com Series.

Home Within is a reflection of the duo’s feelings during different moments over the last ten years regarding Syria, starting from the 2011 uprising to the ensuing and still ongoing war.

Recently recorded in New York City, where they both reside, the upcoming performance will showcase eight musical compositions by Azmeh and 14 pieces of artwork by Mourad, including pre-recorded animations and live illustrations.

The pre-recorded artworks, which took months to make, are a compilation of music, painting and technology and tell stories of the Syrian experience during the chaos,

During the live music performance by Azmeh, Mourad inserts live drawing sessions in-between where he uses his signature technique to squeeze paint out of a small metal pen and smudge it to quickly create illustrations.

A tribute to Syria

Kinan Azmeh, clarinetist and composer, says his music is inspired by multiple traditions but not limited by any of them. | Photo by Liudmila Jeremies

Mourad says the project was originally conceived to support the Syrian refugees after the 2011 Syrian uprising.

“We created Home Within and donated all the proceeds including my drawings to charities. We didn’t think the project was going to last but we started doing it as a duo performance. The upcoming performance is an extension,” he explains.

Azmeh says he feels he owed it to himself as a Syrian to have his voice heard, even though he initially found himself paralyzed and unable to express in music when the uprising first happened in Syria.

“I realized the limitation of art, that what I do doesn’t change the grim situation on the ground. But for me it is a contribution to what people are going through. Music can bring some hope and I hope it opens windows in listeners’ hearts and minds and invites them to the cross-cultural world that I am a part of,” he says.

The duo has now collaborated for nearly two decades after a chance meeting in New York City, their previous notable project being the Epic of Gilgamesh, a creative interpretation of one of the world’s oldest literature and mythology recorded on stone tablets from ancient Mesopotamia.

As both artists are part of the Silkroad Ensemble, they aim to expand and include more instrumentalists in the near future. Founded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Silkroad Ensemble is a broad-ranging cross-cultural collective of musicians from more than 20 different countries collaborating together to create a new musical language.

Feeling and creating the home within

Visual artist Kevork Mourad says art is a powerful tool to capture memory and history | Photo by Ed Tatevossian

Though both connected to Syria, the duo has different perspectives that they bring to their artistic expressions.

Azmeh started learning music when he was very young, growing up in a family that very much values culture. He studied both music and electrical engineering in university and came to the United States to further pursue his studies.

“I would like to think of my music as being inspired by multiple traditions but not limited by any of it,” he says.

For him, the project Home Within raises the questions what is home? and how dynamic can that concept be?

Home Within is a response to what happened in Syria, which is not just a Syrian tragedy, but also a human tragedy,” shares Azmeh.

Mourad, whose grandfather moved to Syria as an Armenian refugee, grew up in a poor household with little to do so he occupied himself with drawings since he was little.

“My grandfather learned Kurdish and he started playing a string instrument and composed songs in Kurdish. It was the first thing for me to understand the concept of diversity as we celebrated other cultures,” Mourad recounts.

Influenced by his grandfather, Mourad has always had music at the back of his mind, which inspired his audio-visual collaborations with musicians as early as the late 90s.

“For me, Home Within is a layered concept. My ancestors were forced to leave home, when we lived in Syria, the home was Syria and what we brought to it. Home is what you can capture from the past and put it in people’s hearts,” says Mourad. “And art is a powerful tool to capture memory and history. I want to put that into my works so people will resonate with the imageries. We are recreating home for them so they can feel safe to rebuild their future.”

For more information please visit www.chancentre.com