Warning: The above film contains scenes which may be disturbing to some viewers.
Malek Jandali is no ordinary musician. The Syrian-American composer and pianist has performed in leading concert halls around the world and has also written a song so powerful that his parents were beaten in punishment for its performance.
“I can’t think of a more stark example of how threatening art can be,” says Julie Winokur, who helped produce a new film about Jandali called Notes for My Homeland.
Born in Germany, and raised in Homs, Syria, Jandali is an American citizen who blends traditional Arab music with Western harmonies. Although now living in the U.S., Jandali’s heart is never far from Syria. His song Watani Ana (I Am My Homeland) was a inspired by the killing of children in the Syrian city of Dara’a. After he performed it during a demonstration in Washington, his parents were attacked in their home in Syria.
Notes for My Homeland was produced by Talking Eyes Media in partnership with Rutgers University-Newark and VII photo agency. It’s the first professionally produced piece in a new storytelling project called “Newest Americans: Stories From the Global City,” which is taking an in-depth look at immigration and the idea of American identity.
The three-year collaboration between the photo agency, production company, and university is tasked with finding new stories that educate people about immigration. The professional journalists in the group will mentor students at Rutgers-Newark—the university with the most diverse student body in the nation—as they produce their own written and visual journalism. A selection of work will be presented on the website Newest Americans.
Notes for My Homeland features Jandali’s story, along with his music, archival video, and photos from Syria, as well as graphic photos of his parents after their attack. It was produced by Winokur and Ed Kashi, with executive production from Tim Raphael, an associate professor of arts, culture, and media at Rutgers-Newark.
And, bringing the project full circle, Jandali was first introduced to the Newest Americans project by his oud player, Mohamed Alsiadi, who is also a doctoral student at Rutgers-Newark. They will be performing, along with cello player Laura Metcalf, on January 31 at Carnegie Hall.
Jandali will present chamber works for piano, cello, and oud, in conjunction with the release of his new album, Syrian Symphony, at Carnegie Hall on January 31st.