Refugee musicians will help raise funds for Canadian Blood Services, Inuit children

February 22, 2018

By Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen |

Before he fled Syria, Mohammed Naser wanted to become a musician. He played a range of instruments — piano, drums, violin, guitar and oud (a Middle Eastern lute) — and sang powerfully and even piercingly.

But five years ago, his homeland’s civil war drove him from Daraa, in southwestern Syria, to a refugee camp in Jordan. He spent three years there before coming to Ottawa in the winter of 2016. In the last two years, Naser, now 23, has learned English and found work at a shawarma eatery.

Music was on the back burner for a while — that is, until Naser was able to join a small ensemble called Arabesque. In the all-male band, five members are refugees and two are immigrants. During a recent rehearsal, the musicians distributed a set list and jammed at length on songs that featured potent singing in Arabic, earthy drumming and punchy keyboard textures.

“We just found each other by friendship. It was really by accident,” says Arabesque’s keyboardist Dani Najjar, who emigrated to Canada seven years ago, is now a Canadian citizen, and who by day works as an assistant pharmacist.

But even if the band came together by happenstance, it has begun gigging with the best of intentions. On Saturday, the band will be on the bill at an event called Syrians For Peace.

The event, to be held at the Ottawa Chinese Canadian Heritage Centre on Kent Street, is a fundraiser for Canadian Blood Services and the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre.

“As the vast majority of Canadians have welcomed Syrian refugees to the country with open arms and hearts, we wanted to have a way to enable Syrians in Ottawa to give back to the larger community,” says the event’s organizer, Jamal Alsharif.

In addition to Arabesque, a children’s group — Children for Peace — will perform Syrian songs and dances, artworks by children will be exhibited and auctioned, and a women’s group, Ladies for Peace, will sell Syrian food.

“The motto of this event is refugees are human, and they can make peace,” says Alsharif.

Syrians for Peace
Where: Sunday, Feb. 25, 5 to 9 p.m.
Where: Ottawa Chinese Canadian Heritage Centre, 397 Kent St.
Tickets: $23, $13 for students and children under 16 at (search for Syrians for Peace)
Info: (search for Syrians for Peace)

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