Sooriana: Rhythms of Syria
The fresh breeze rustles through the leaves of olive trees. The intoxicating aroma of freshly cooked food fills the air. The guests are waiting for something. It is a typical wedding day in the heart of Syria. Suddenly there are cries of joy from the attendees. It is not the bride who has arrived, but the Arada band – a traditional musical group that uses swordplay and poetic chanting to amuse and entertain the guests. The Arada tradition is typically Syrian and unfortunately not as well known as its cousin Dabke, the ceremonial dance of Levantine Arabs.
These musical groups perform at weddings, festivals and even funerals. They are equally popular and loved in Muslim as well as Christian Syria.
We are lucky to have an Arada in our own midst in Mississauga. This talented group of young Syrian lads calls themselves “Sooriana”. Though of course the name stems from “Sooriya”, the Arabic way of pronouncing “Syria” But those familiar with Urdu/Hindi know “Sur” also means melody, so a befitting title for this amazing ensemble.
The Link Canada caught up with the boys after their performance at a wedding.
How did Sooriana come to be?
Sooriana: There was a charity event at UTM to support and help the Syrian refugees. We thought it would be a good idea to present something which relates to the Syrian culture. So, we decided to perform as an Arada group. There was also singing, music and a skit and people really loved it. And we also enjoyed the experience. After the performance, we decided to share this experience with the community at large. We got together as a group in the summer of 2014 and started practicing for shows. We also got the equipment and clothes from Syria. Then we spread the word around. People liked our work and we got invited to different events. This is how it all started.
How many people do you have in the group altogether?
Sooriana: Right now we are nine. Nasim has joined us recently. He is a refugee from Syria. He is a very talented musician. He plays the piano and the guitar. Majd here is a great singer. Each and everyone of us brings a unique talent to enrich the group.
What inspires you all?
Sooriana: A lot of things actually. Obviously the first thing that comes to mind is the crises in Syria. This is what triggered us to raise money for the refugees and to increase awareness. Here at UTM we were able to raise a modest sum of money, but the real payoff was that we were able to spread the knowledge of what was going on in Syria. There is the business side of course like performing at Weddings etc. but we also do a lot of voluntary work. We performed for the Syrian refugees, as well as for different other causes like the Palestinian cause. We try to stick to our own unique style, the traditional Syrian style. That is why people like us. You know there are many Syrians in Mississauga and Syria is all over the news. Most of which unfortunately is just about the war. A negative portrayal about cities getting destroyed. We are proud to present the pleasant face of Syria. The Syrian children who have grown up over here did not get a chance to get exposed to their culture. Our work is an effort to fill this gap.
Are there any financial challenges involved?
Sooriana: Of course, there are. At the end of the day we are students and sometimes people cannot pay even if they want to. That is a big challenge, but the passion we have for our cause keeps us going despite the hurdles.
Tell us something about the instruments you use for your performance?
Sooriana: Most of them are percussion instruments. These are what are traditionally used in Syria. Then as I mentioned Nasim plays the guitar and electric keyboard. Sometimes we like to inculcate other things like singing and skits. Though we try to stay true to our Arada tradition we add other ingredients to bring variety to our performances.
What do you offer that is different from similar groups?
Sooriana: The market is saturated with the usual Dabke groups. As far as we know we are the only purely Arada group in and around Mississauga. Not everyone can do what we do. They just do the Dabke dance. We have that in Syria too but Arada is actually what is truly Syrian. Also, as mentioned before we add much more to our performances like musical shows to entertain the audience.
Do you think it is more difficult to perform the Arada than Dabke?
Sooriana: We cannot say it more difficult when compared to any other form. Every entity has its place but I must say that ours is different. The usual Dabke performances involve dancing. But we have the sword show which is a unique and special traditional show. We also include singing. So, ours is a complete performance rather than a mere piece. For example, when we have an Arabic speaking audience it is an interactive performance like when we talk to the bride or groom at a wedding there is a bit of comedy and good natured bickering which everyone enjoys. The capacity to engage the audience is one thing we are blessed with.
Another unique thing is how when we do the sword show with the percussion instruments, we create an aura. We inform the audience beforehand that there are swords involved. There is that dramatic entrance involved. These are the little things which make a good show great.
Also, as we mentioned we are friends as well, so what helps us be successful is that we can feel the combined energy and so can the audience. Everyone enjoys and becomes a part of the performance.
What was your most memorable performance to date?
Sooriana: It was when we performed in front of the Syrian refugees. They never expected to experience this in Canada. What would be dream come true is if we do a sort of tour of different cities so we perform and raise money for the Syrian refugees.
Tell us how you balance your studies and the rest of your life with being a part of a performance group?
Sooriana: It is not easy for sure. We have our studies but we also must commit ourselves to practice and performing. There are weddings and other events on different days and many times they clash with our studies. And they do get affected at times but so far we have managed. We are the busiest during the summers and that helps. But it is like a part time job so we must get involved and give it time and energy. It is not just an activity but a passion for us.
Have you ever thought about making this your full-time career in the future?
Sooriana: We would like for Sooriana to continue and flourish for as long as we can manage. We are all studying in different fields like medicine etc., so it is unrealistic to imagine that this would be our main career but if we have support from people we will keep on going. It helps us express ourselves, propagate our culture and at times pay our tuition fees, so we would like to continue. You know people just watch our 30-minute performance and assume that is all the effort we put in. They do not know how much practice hours, marketing efforts and resources went in the final result. Even the costumes the instruments cost us money and are not easy to get.
Where do you see Sooriana two years from now?
Sooriana: Right now, we are taking it one step at a time and focusing on continuously improving and expanding our shows through extra training and attracting new talent. We understand that to keep it interesting long term we have to keep innovating and evolving so that our potential audience does not lose interest.
How did you get to connect with each other?
Sooriana: We all met in different ways. Most of us met each other here in Canada. Nasim’s story is interesting. He sent us a funny Facebook message stating that he is new from Syria and he has a loud voice. Next day Omar saw this and shared it with us. Then Nasim came with his guitar and we recorded a song in his voice and posted it on our Facebook page. This post had the most views as compared to any other before. Basically, we are like brothers and family and support each other as such.
Anything else you want to add?
Sooriana: We hope that through our hard work and commitment we can offer something unique and exciting for the people as well as contribute to the Syrian cause. It did not come easy. It took us a lot of effort and commitment to learn many of these skills, and we feel grateful to have been able to have a positive impact.
From where did you learn your skills?
Sooriana: From YouTube, from blogs etc. We watched new and old videos from Syria. You have to understand this stuff is not documented, not formally recorded. We researched and learned as we went along. We will keep on enhancing our skills and performances. As long as we have audience, Sooriana will keep on thriving.
Omar Rifai: Sooriana Manager & Media Executive. Drummer.
Bilal Rifai: Sooriana Executive. Arada leader. Sword player.
Ali Al Wafi: Sooriana Executive. Head Arada leader. Sword player.
Majd Alfakir (Alfa): Singer. Arada crew.
Nasim Misrabi: Drummer. Guitarist. Pianist.
Yasseen Tasabehji: Arada leader. Sword player.
Moaz Tasabehji: Arada crew. Sword player.
Riad Al Sabbagh: Arada crew. Hakawati storyteller.
Khaled Kudsi: Arada crew.
It is impossible not to be impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of this group and their commitment to the cause of propagating their culture and heritage. Granted it important for all of us not to forget the Syria at war, but it is equally imperative to remember the Syria at peace. The vibrant culture, the ancient history, the gorgeous landscapes, the versatile cuisine, the arts, and literature and especially the amazing people of Syria. All this should never be overshadowed by the tragedy and pessimism of an unfortunate and unjust war. Sooriana are doing a great service by constantly reminding us what a jewel Syria is through their musical and performing talents.
Reach out and learn more about them at: