Taraf Syriana: the united traditions of music

by Frédéric Cardin

On Sunday November 15, the general public will be able to enter free of charge into a sparkling universe of colours, flavours, and sounds thanks to the Taraf Syriana ensemble. The concert, which is part of the 21st Festival du monde arabe programme, is available online from 8 pm.

Taraf Syriana is composed of Sergiu Popa on accordion, Noemy Braun on six-string cello (an invention of the young Montreal-Swiss artist, a sort of marriage between Schubert’s Arpeggione and the modern cello, which offers a tessitura unparalleled to the classical instrument), as well as Naeem Shanwar on qanoun and Omar Abou Afach on violin (also a member of the excellent Ensemble Astan).

The inspiration and de facto conductor of the ensemble is Popa, who also does most of the arrangements. If you’re new to Montreal and a musician, chances are this affable and passionate man will be one of the first to welcome you, and invite you to jam with him. It was during one of these friendly jams with Syrian musicians that Popa met Omar and Naeem, who were joined by Noemy.

Their love of the music of the great territory with Syria at its centre made them want to unite and communicate to the general public the exceptional richness of these manifold, millennia-old traditions. The focal point is even more focused on the Gypsy traditions of this vast geographical area, which extends as far as the Balkans to the west, Egypt, Lebanon, the Kurdish lands, Armenia and the Caucasus, and even India, because there lies the historical source of the entire Romani diaspora. Occasionally, they even dare the Argentine tango!

A vast programme, moreover, given that many of the musical traditions of this genre are very little known in the very countries of their origin, and very rarely transcribed and recorded by their own performers.

In any case, Taraf Syriana wants to create a kind of new Ottoman empire, apolitical, this one because it is musical.

You’re invited to an inclusive change of scenery on Sunday evening, November 15, 2020 at 8 pm, as part of the Festival du monde arabe (FMA).


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