As a unique part of the National Fundraising Campaign for the Children of Gaza, Syrian band Kulna Sawa performed three concerts in February at the Opera House, Damascus. All ticket earnings were donated for the campaign in support of Gaza.
Iad Rimauy, singer, composer and founding member of Kulna Sawa, talks about UNRWA, the war in Gaza, resistance, and playing for peace.
Kulna Sawa was founded in 1995. Does it have a Palestinian background?
The original members of Kulna Sawa are Ayham al-Any, Bashar Musa, Sonia Bitar, Hazim al-Any, Marwan Nakhleh, Rafel al-Hifar and me. I personally have a Palestinian background, my father is Palestinian, but I was born in Damascus and spent my whole life there.
What do you know about UNRWA?
My brother, an architect, used to teach at the Damascus Training Center. I am fully aware of UNRWA’s work and its support for Palestinian refugees. The whole world saw what UNRWA did during the war in Gaza and how UNRWA schools received people and refugees and provided shelter for them, despite the aggression being so strong that it even reached the UNRWA schools themselves. UNRWA is a humanitarian organization within the UN and it is doing a lot for the Palestinian people in general.
The Fundraising campaign and Kulna Sawa concerts at the Opera House: How did everything start?
Since the war in Gaza started, Kulna Sawa has tried to find any kind of event to support Gaza. The opportunity came with a call from the National Fundraising Campaign for the Children of Gaza. The campaign organizers from the Syrian government created a link between us and UNRWA; so we started organizing the concert, the tickets etc. and planned with the UNRWA Field Administration Officer Mr. Pascal Deleu and the Director of UNRWA-Syria, Mr. Panos Moumtzis. The event organization had to be very fast. We finished the concerts yesterday, and the whole idea only started twenty-five days ago. It was hard work with plenty of fast planning behind it. The show in the Opera House was quite complex; containing movies, animations and documentary elements between the actual theater dancing show and the puppet show. It was a difficult and intense experience at the same time.
Which message did the concert in the Opera House deliver to its audience?
What I heard from UNRWA was that the concerts raised a good amount of money and I think it was a success. In addition, what we presented in the concert is our latest album, Kulna Sawa Radio - a concept album. The content of both the album and the concert is important because they both talk about resistance and show that every human being’s life is precious and important. Aggression and injustice must stop taking place in our region.
How do you fight against the stereotypes targeted at you because you are an Arab Rock band?
I think being sarcastic about it is the answer because it shows how narrow minded the whole idea is. During our US tour in 2005 we tried to break this stereotype while touring in twenty American states for an American audience. The tour was called "Culture for Peace" and the idea was to present a Syrian band to Americans. After the show we received questions like: "In Syria, where did you get the guitars from? If I come to Damascus is there a paved road from the airport and so on." This was how many people looked to this region. But going there, playing for them and showing them a band like Kulna Sawa that is no different from any other band in the world bridges the gap and breaks the ice between different cultures.
What does the word "Palestine" mean to you?
I think of it as my father and his memories from Palestine have shown me: as a nice and good place to live. Many highly educated people came from Palestine, because it used to have a good education system in the 1920s and 1930, like early universities etc. But with the occupation, the whole picture appears different now. I feel sad and it reminds me of something that you lost, like a precious thing that you lost. But you hope to get it back one day.
After the war in Gaza, what should be done to support the victims and especially the children of Gaza?
Money contributions and protests should go on as well as trying ensure justice is served. Of course raising money and supporting UNRWA is very important. What made us, as Kulna Sawa, interested and enthusiastic about UNRWA and the concert? We think UNRWA is the only organization that can bring direct help to Gaza right now, so everybody that can support UNRWA should do it. UNRWA is our messenger to Gaza and we should encourage people to use this messenger.
What is your personal support for the children of Gaza?
The concerts held at the Opera House in support of the Fundraising Campaign were the release concerts of our new album, which usually benefits Kulna Sawa financially. This time we contributed our profits to the children of Gaza. We are trying to organize further concerts, maybe in Homs or Aleppo, to support Gaza through our art. I am very happy that we were able to do something for Gaza and I was happy to work with UNRWA.
Dreams for the future of Palestine?
My dream is the end of occupation, and a fair and good solution for the Palestinian people.
Interview by: Eva Pilipp
Photos by: Alexander Binek