When we launched the Newest Americans project in 2014, the war in Syria had already produced four million refugees.
One of the early collaborators on the project was Mohamed Alsiadi, an Arabic language and culture instructor and American Studies doctoral student at Rutgers-Newark. Mohamed, as it happens, is also a scholar of Syrian waslah music and an accomplished musician on the oud. Through Mohamed we were introduced to his friend and frequent collaborator composer Malek Jandali, who became the subject of our first Newest Americans film.
Jandali, who was born in Germany but raised in Syria, is an American citizen who lives in Atlanta. Trained in Damascus in the Western classical music tradition, his dual identity as a Syrian and an American led Jandali to integrate Arabic and Western classical music in order to claim “my identity as a Syrian from an American perspective.” Employing his music as a weapon of resistance against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Jandali became an activist, especially on behalf of Syrian children. He has visited refugee camps, demonstrated, raised money for humanitarian aid, held benefit concerts, and spoken and written about a dictatorship whose sole purpose, he declares, is “to destroy the human spirit.”
Notes For My Homeland documents the political impact of Jandali’s music, most notably in the sequence where he performs his song Watani Ana (I Am My Homeland), inspired by the killing of children in the Syrian city of Dara’a, at a demonstration in Washington. Assad’s response is to send his thugs to terrorize Jandali’s parents in their home in Syria. Also referenced in the film is the “Qashoush Symphony,” which Jandali composed to honor Ibrahim Qashoush, whose song “Yalla Erhal Ya Bashar” was chanted by protesters in Hama at the beginning of the war. Shortly after the demonstrations in Hama, Qashoush was found dead in the Orontes River, his throat cut and his vocal cords removed. His song went viral and became the soundtrack of demonstrations across the country. Qashoush’s song and Jandali’s evolution from classical musician to passionate activist exemplify a transformation that the civil war in Syria has wrought on many Syrians and demonstrates the power of art to catalyze social movements.
Notes for My Homeland was awarded the Black Maria Film Festival’s Jury’s Select—1st Prize and screened at the festival premiere at New Jersey City University on February 4, 2016.
Notes for My Homeland was screened at the Garden State Film Festival in Atlantic City from March 31, 2016 – April 3, 2016.
Notes for My Homeland was awarded in the multimedia category of the PDN Storytellers contest.