I’m constantly surprised that I live in Steinfurt - home to many retired people who made up the bulk of the audience for tonight’s concert. The old white people were out in force to support and learn from a young Palestinian/Syrian man. Aeham Ahmad climbed the shallow steps to the platform before the first powerful notes of his music rang out.
Before the first piece, there was a lot of talking. A lot. Firstly heckling from the audience because the microphone wasn’t loud enough, (“turn your hearing aid up” was the helpful advice of one retiree), then the painful story of Aeham’s life. Growing up in as a Palestinian refugee in Syria was hard enough, before war broke out. Aeham and his friends would wheel his piano outside and he would play amidst the rubble of bomb blasts.
Aeham talked about his music, describing how classical, jazz and eastern music all combined in his composition/improvisations. He sang too, mournful notes over sustained chords were alternated with impressively virtuosic passages. The anger, sorrow, guilt and sadness of his story poured out through his fingers to be made sound for us to share.
Aeham’s classical training is evident. His facility of touch and the sheer speed at which he can play was astounding. In all honesty, I found it really hard to listen to him. There was a lot of loud playing, the raw emotion spilling everywhere. The pieces were also quite similar to each other. Familiar riffs would return and chord sequences were reused. The message of peace and hope that the narrator put forward wasn’t expressed in the music at all.
The audience clearly admired his dexterity and ability to perform with such passion. After a standing ovation, the first encore was based on Ode to Joy - the famous tune from Beethoven’s ninth symphony which all the German pensioners knew the words for. To me, this was a sudden contrast to the ‘real’ music - but showed off his ability to weave a melody into his own style with skill.
I can’t imagine the life that Aeham and his family have had to endure. In 2016, Aeham took the Balkan route from Syria to Germany. But I can’t miss an opportunity to draw attention to how things are now.
Aeham had achieved family reunification within a year of his arrival. That means that his asylum claim was processed, accepted and then his family could join him via a legal route. Friends of mine spend twice that time or longer trapped in countries on the way. They then have to wait years just for their asylum claims to be assessed. The wait even after an interview is months and months in France, Germany and the UK. The compassion shown by the audience for Aeham should be extended to everyone else, whether from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Sudan or anywhere else.
Aeham is a firstclass musician, and an ambassador for others who share parts of his story, and I'm really glad I got to hear him play.
Want to DO SOMETHING! People in the UK can volunteer to help Care4Calais when people first arrive in the country. Or if you’d rather have an online task and have 3-4 hours a week, get in touch to help Are You Syrious with the News Digest.