Some argue that Europe has been draining other cultures of their resources for many centuries, and has a moral obligation open up and start behaving differently. ”I believe in multicultural societies, as we say – the more flowers, the better“, says Timea Szabo, a Hungarian MP. One of those flowers is a Syrian musician Mohammad Abu Hajar who had to leave home in 2012, but through his music tries to eliminate stereotypes, expose injustice and inspire others to create a tolerant world accepting differences. He holds on to music as a means of adapting and integrating in a new country while maintaining his cultural heritage.
Mohammad Abu Hajar is a rapsinger from Syria, based in Berlin. He left after being arrested and spending time in jail multiple times for his political activism. At first, he went to Italy where he did his Master studies in Political Economics at the Univerzita La Sapienza and wrote a dissertation thesis on the topic of The Economic Effect Of Migration. Since July 2014, however, his new home is Berlin where he continues to express himself through music. He is one of 20507 Syrians whose asylum in Germany was recognized in 2014.
Watch infographics on Syrian Asylum Seekers In Germany, 2014
Why did you move to Germany?
I wanted to have a life. In Italy, everything was difficult and complicated. I had some contacts in Berlin, so I thought it would be easier for me to start there.
How long did it take you to get accepted in Germany?
I had a recommendation letter from the Reporters Without Borders and it took the institutions 2 months to recognise it.
Do you sing in German?
No, my German is still too weak. But when I was in Italy, I did some freestyle in Italian. Once I improve my German, I think, I would be able to deliver the message in easier way. For now, I insist to have subtitles to all my songs. Even during the concerts, there is always a projector showing the lyrics in English.
What does music mean to you?
I grew up with music. When I was 5, I started taking piano lessons and was doing classical music until I came across rap. When I heard the Arabic rap, I decided to switch. It is now 11 years that I have been working on my rap music and I love it. I love to express myself through rap, but at the same time I am connected to it in such a way that I have a hard time expressing. I don’t know a real medium of expression besides rap.
Did you grow up mostly with local music or the international music too?
I was playing piano, so it was mostly classical music. But also I worked with a local school band, where I did some oriental stuff. I tried other instruments such as a keyboard or an accordion. In general, though, my background is oriental.
Do you listen to more German music now?
I mostly listen to Arabic music, but my taste in music definitely changed since I moved to Europe. Especially, after I moved to Berlin. Berlin is a great music city. I started incorporating other elements and I am accepted, diversity overall is more welcomed here. I also started listening to European music when I met musicians here. In Syria I had no clue about them.
Do you still sing traditional songs?
Ohh…If only you could hear what we are doing now! I am using the oriental motives in my rap songs for the first time. During the the last 3 months, I always include at least 1 oriental song in the concert using a darbuka [a musical instrument].
How does the German audience perceive your music?
I think they receive it really well. I have 1 concert a week and people are interested in a collaboration with me. Also, the reason why I sing has a deeper meaning now. When I see that people accept the way I chose to express myself, I put more creative messages in the lyrics. I sing about weapons, people being killed, military conflicts and refugees. I use music to deliver my thoughts and my audience accepts it.
How big is your audience?
It was bigger in Syria, for sure. In Syria, there were around 5000 people attending my concerts. Now, I have more people coming every week and they know the songs already. They try to sing the lyrics even though they don´t know the language. Music is a language that we all understand. Through music we all communicate our concerns and beliefs.
Did music get you through some difficult times too?
Sure, I will tell you a funny story. Back in Syria, during the first night in jail me and my friend told each other that they are trying to break our world and humiliate us. The only way to show resistance was by singing, I had a virtual piano that I drew on a piece of paper and played on it. The time in jail was my worst experience, but because of music I remember only the good things. Without music, it would have been much worse for me. Music saved me. And now music helps me to get over the exile. In Germany, I’m in a music paradise where I have better equipment and opportunities and mainly say freely what I want.
Does music help you to integrate in the society?
Currently, I am working on a new music project with Germans and Italians in Berlin. Two weeks ago, I was recording a song and there was a guy who couldn’t speak English and I can’t speak German well, but we managed to communicate nevertheless. Music helps me to integrate. It is such a nice experience to overcome the linguistic differences by doing music together.
Do you plan to stay in Germany?
My wish is to go back to Syria, to my project and to my audience there. Even if I want to do music here I still feel a little bit awkward, I am in a waiting mode. My aim and my main wish in life is to go back to Syria.
Music is a refuge platform for the most of us. Mohammad uses music as a tool of expression that can help alter the perception of traumatic experiences, even create something beautiful out of it. Inner struggles can be transformed into a piece of art and heal both the creator and the recipient. Since the beginning of time, humans have been surrounding themselves with art in all its forms. Art speaks to us and we speak through art. To Mohammad, music provides a sense of comfort, well-being and a sense of home when he misses it the most.
More info about Mohammad and his music here.
Report by Julie Mahlerova (Czech Republic), Nina Đuranović and Milena Kovacevic (Montenegro)