Muslim and Christian vocal music from the rainbow region of religions.

While Europe tries to establish new national identities based on pluralism, the world’s oldest religious diversity is about to fall apart before the eyes of a paralytic world.

KKV’s Erik Hillestad has made recordings of profoundly beautiful sacral music from historic Syria. Recordings were made of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and their Lebanese fellow believers, in churches and mosques in Beirut and the Bekaa valley. Here Christian and Muslim singers perform in choirs, at times delicately accompanied by oud, organ, flute or violin.

The result is an evocative audio document of a CD showing the broad range of religious songs from a region ravaged by conflicts. Hillestad presents music from the earliest centuries of Christianity and Islam up to the present. The aim is to help preserve a beautiful part of our world heritage, but also to sound a warning about what is at stake when the wars in Syria and Iraq and the generally increasing conflict level in the region tear away at the finely meshed fabric of peaceful coexistence across religions and sects.

Of the more than 20 religious traditions in the region constituting the historic Syria, eight of the most musically prominent have been included on the album. These are the Armenian church, the Syrian orthodox church, the Byzantine tradition, the Chaldean church, the Assyrian church, the Maronites, the Sunni Muslims and the Shia Muslims.

The contributing performers are:

Kousan Male Chamber Choir, Armenian tradition

Abbas Badawy, Shia Muslim singer

Choir of the Antonine School of Music, Maronites

Choir from the Syrian Orthodox Church in Zahle, the Bekaa valley

Mahdi Kallas, Shia Muslim singer

Mount Lebanon Orthodox Byzantine Choir (SEM)

Dr. Hassan Moraib, Sunni Muslim singer

St. Joseph Chaldean Choir, Chaldean tradition

Syrian refugee children from the Assyrian tradition

Choir of the Assyrian Church of the East, Assyrian tradition

Mansour Zayter, Sunni Muslim singer

“Syrian Prayers” is subtitled “Sacred music from Bilad Al Sham”. Al Sham is the old Arab name for Damascus, and Bilad means “homeland”. Most are familiar with the words “When Quirinius was governor of Syria” from the Christmas Gospel. It was a far more extensive Syria than today’s war-torn Arab republic, first established as a nation after World War II. At the time of Quirinius, Syria also included Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and parts of Iraq and Turkey.

Erik Hillestad has worked for two years on this project, which has been funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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