Playlist #22: East Syrian Hafla Hits | Curated by Rizan Said

Click here for the full playlist on YouTube.

This playlist is curated by Syrian Kurdish composer, musician and producer Rizan Said, also known as the “King of Keyboard” and renowned for his prolific collaborations with numerous stellar Syrian artists.

Rising on the world’s stage through his iconic collaboration with renowned Syrian wedding singer Omar Souleyman, his rowdy keyboard tunes and original dabke music are guaranteed to keep the hafla (or party) going ‘till the morning hours. Taking inspiration from his native Ras Al-Ayn in north eastern Syria, Rizan mastered playing instruments like the nay (reed flute), accordeon, saz, and bazooki before moving on to the keyboard – one of the first to do so in his region. The use of music within the local communities, specifically the Kurdish ones, had always been a key staple of social events such as weddings, with songs conveying a musical heritage, celebrating social customs and paying tribute to the region and its history.

The playlist features upbeat and energetic tunes incorporating the keyboard, but also other instruments like the reed flute, saz (plucked string instrument), masoola ماصولة (a type of flute), shakhool شاخولة (a wind instrument specific to the Euphrates region made from the wood of apricot trees), rababa (bowed string instrument), saz and dilan, in addition to other folk instruments around Al-Hasakah, Deir El-Zoor, Der Ez-Zur regions and Raqqa (also known as the Jazeera area), as well as parts of Iraq. The tunes are masterfully blended together in a style incorporating western beats with fast tempos inviting dancers to frantic and circular moves.

One of the staples and long lasting name on the scene has been the great Saad Al-Hirbawi سعد الحرباوي who is featured here singing slow traditional Kurdish mawwals, regional soundtracks to which many grew up listening to in the 1990s and 2000s. At that time, and specifically before the 90s, the lack of Kurdish radios meant that music was almost solely being recorded at social events; the subsequent tapes served as the principal tool to disseminate music, culture and messages, within the community. The alternative was to tune into radio broadcasting from Iraq or ِArmenia which would occasionally play Kurdish songs, thus much of the music played in Syria is not preserved through recordings, until the advent of satellite dishes and wider dissemination of radio airwaves in the 90’s.

From his own repertoire, Rizan chose songs from his hypnotising 2015 solo album “King of Keyboard”. Released on the Beirut-based Annihaya Records, Rizan was approached by the record label’s founder and multimedia artist Raed Yassin to work on the album, showcasing his electronic synthesizer and improvisational and compositional prowess while preserving ancient sounds of his agricultural environment. His song Yuma incorporates the singing of women harvesting cotton in the fields and singing folk songs. Zerni and Yasin also bring new life to Syrian and Kurdish sounds with the torrential speed of Korg keyboards. Omar Souleyman’s hit song “Khattaba/خطابة” is also included, a song which was seemingly blasted on every Syrian street between 2004 and 2005. The first piece highlights celebrations around the engagement on Nura, while the second one focuses on the zaffe or wedding celebration. Omar Souleyman and Rizan Said’s original collaboration was a groundbreaking international debut for homegrown Syrian music; It was not long before the duo was up front and centre on some of the world’s biggest festival stages, playing Syrian wedding grooves to the world.

Rizan’s numerous collaborations give an insight into the local music scene of Jazeera and deserve to be highlighted beyond his popular work. Young Abdel Razzak Al-Jboury عبد الرزاق الجبوري, Alwan Jboury علوان الجبوري and Ahmad El-Ghizlane أحمد الغزلان in addition to Mamoon Hamada مأمون حمادة are all inspired by the local Arabic and Kurdish folkloric dabke sounds of Al-Hasakah region and its specific context and vibes. Revel in the saz trills, rumbly grooves and techno beats all the way from Eastern Syria.

What are MARSM Playlists?

Marsm’s bi-weekly playlists take on the musical history, trends and upcoming productions from the music scene in the Arabic-speaking countries. Each playlist focuses on a new theme, showcasing both underground and established artists – from the more dance-able to the most experimental – and everything in between.