BEIRUT: Arab Idol contestant Abdel Karim Hamdan brought millions of television viewers to tears when he sang about the plight of his home town, the battered city of Aleppo.“
Aleppo, a flood of suffering, how much blood is shed in my country!” the 25-year-old sang in the Lebanon studio where the hugely popular show, modeled on British hit Pop Idol, is recorded.
The lyrics, which Hamdan himself penned, deeply affected his audience with their raw emotion and pain.
“That’s the voice we want to hear in the Arab world, not the sound of cannons!” exclaimed vocalist Nancy Ajram, a jury member.
Hamdan has been accused both of being a supporter of the regime and of the uprising against it that began in March 2011. He has reportedly even received death threats.
The young singer, with a neatly trimmed beard, said he has “nothing to do with politics” and wants to “sing for Syria and that’s all.”
Far from the media frenzy of Arab Idol, other young Syrian artists are also finding that Beirut is a place where they can exorcize some of the demons that have accompanied them from the conflict.
On the sidelines of Beirut’s platform of contemporary dance, BIPOD, 11 Syrian choreographers last month presented projects showcasing the scars of war.
One such performance, “My brother, the war and me,” has a dancer crawling across the stage, hands tied, facing shadows meant to represent the troops of the Syrian regime.
“The most important thing for me,” choreographer Ayass Moqdad told AFP, “is to show the suffering of human beings.”
The 32-year-old Moqdad took ballet classes in the Higher Institute of Performing Arts in Deraa, the town credited with being the cradle of the Syrian uprising. He left his hometown for Belgium five months after the conflict began.
“War drives us to create,” said another participant, Hussein Khodur, who still lives in Damascus and says he once danced on broken glass after a blast near his institute.
For most, it is difficult to distance themselves from a war that has changed their lives forever.
Choreographer Mithqal Alzghair, 32, who studied at the Higher Institute for Dramatic Arts in Damascus, expresses his take on the conflict in an unusual work called “Between revolt and death.”
Two dancers suspended by cables tied to their waists perform a slow, silent midair dance.
Suddenly the sound of gunfire echoes from the PA system, followed by the voices of militants announcing the date of videos filmed on the ground.
The two dancers curl their bodies, hug each other and seconds later one falls heavily on the stage.
“I asked myself how dance, which involves the body, can evoke death, the inert bodies we see on television. This is my way to participate in what is happening in my country,” says the slender Alzghair, who is preparing for a masters degree at Montpellier’s National Choreographic Center.
“What is beautiful is that despite the difficulties they want to produce something,” said Omar Rajeh, the Lebanese choreographer and dancer who founded BIPOD. “It is very important that they be allowed to express themselves on stage.”
Other Syrian artists have picked up jobs as waiters in cafes in Beirut’s Hamra district to make ends meet.
Some are using their talents to make a living, like Bassem al-Sayyed who has been drawing charcoal portraits of pedestrians in Sidon, the largest city in southern Lebanon, for the past year.
“One portrait goes for $14. With that money I help my family back in Aleppo,” he says. “Drawing makes me forget that I am in exile.”