The Syrian Cassette Archive, preserving a disappearing historical past


When Yamen Mekdad was a teen in Damascus, Syria, there was one place he’d go virtually daily: his pal’s cassette store.

“So I would just sit with him, hang around with him, smoke cigarettes and simply hearken to the brand new music,” Mekdad tells All Issues Thought-about. “Punk music, or like Gregorian … so it was at all times a visit to discover the unknown for me.”

On the similar time, unbeknownst to Mekdad, Mark Gergis started to rediscover the Arabic music from his childhood – which finally introduced him to Syria and its multitude of music kiosks.

“They’d typically simply be blaring that week’s fashionable tape at full quantity – simply subsequent to a different cart, whose proprietor would have his favourite tape blaring at a good larger quantity,” Gergis remembers. “So it was this lovely cacophony.”

20 years later, in 2018, Gergis and Mekdad met, and commenced to digitize their previous cassette tapes as a way to assist protect that period of music – particularly because the civil conflict scattered Syrian tradition. Now, their assortment resides on-line and rising. It is referred to as the Syrian Cassette Archives.


This dialog has been edited and condensed. To listen to the printed model of this story, use the audio participant on the prime of this web page.

Ari Shapiro: By making this a cassette archive, you zero in on a interval in time. What’s it concerning the cassette, particularly?

Yamen Mekdad: I believe, particularly within the international south, the cassette medium simply democratized the method much more so than the remainder of the world because of the complexity of manufacturing information, vinyl information. For instance in Syria, there have been no urgent vegetation. So so that you can attain a stage the place you may press a report it’s important to be an artist that reached a prestigious stage. When cassettes had been launched within the ’70s, that modified the sport. Numerous these musicians had been practical musicians – they might carry out at weddings, at festivals domestically. However when the cassettes had been launched they had been in a position to report in a DIY setup … and distribute exterior the area.

The town of Aleppo has been a melting pot for hundreds of years – proper alongside the Silk Highway, and the influences from everywhere in the world are mirrored within the meals and the structure. Numerous the music in your assortment comes from Aleppo.

Mark Gergis: Aleppo was the first hotbed for cassette manufacturing corporations. We will hardly depend the variety of them that got here and went. Some endured for many years. However after 2011 [and the beginning of the Syrian civil war], a few of these longstanding music corporations disappeared in a single day. In our analysis we have positioned a couple of of them … however many stay untraceable.

It is actually exhausting to speak concerning the wealthy range and great thing about Aleppo with out additionally speaking about how devastated it was by the Syrian civil conflict. This might be a historic archive of nice worth, even when the conflict had not occurred – however how do you consider it within the context of what is been misplaced?

The thought for an archival venture got here throughout the horror of watching from afar as Syria fell into conflict and destruction after 2011, and studying of pals and contacts struggling unthinkable trauma and displacement, even loss of life. So I began trying on the cassettes … with new eyes. The gathering has taken on an unlucky new gravity.

The tales behind that period and the tapes and the makers behind them additionally had such a largely undocumented narrative. We actually felt that it was time to concentrate on them.

Yamen, when the Damascus that you simply grew up in is ceaselessly modified – the Damascus you bear in mind is gone. What worth does that add to a set like this?

Mekdad: I used to be in Damascus two months in the past for a while … undoubtedly issues have modified. Positively issues are extraordinarily exhausting in the mean time, particularly economically as a consequence of sanctions and authorities insurance policies and so forth. However the magical factor about that place [is] that individuals at all times persevere, they nonetheless do their factor. Inside all this heartache they’re nonetheless artistic and loving and believing.

There are two sides to it – the archiving facet the place we’re preserving but additionally how can we push ahead and have interaction and keep alive and dream of how this will nonetheless be a part of our future id in some way.

To listen to the printed model of this story, use the audio participant on the prime of this web page.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see extra, go to https://www.npr.org.





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