The final track on 2004′s I Remember Syria — producer Mark Gergis’s evocative man-to-nation “love letter” consisting of street sounds, political commentary, homosexual confession, random bursts of radio, plus a few actual musical selections — is a conceptual stunner. “The Norias of Hama (Blood Irrigation on the Orontes)” is eight minutes of what sounds like jets but is actually Hama’s famous wooden water wheels, which have been adopted as a symbol of resistance to current president Bashar al-Assadh, son of former president Hafez al-Assad, whose tanks and bombs killed some 30,000 Syrian Sunnis in 1982. I Remember Syria is thus more timely than ever, and its re-release benefits the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (Red Cross).
More than 70,000 Syrians have been killed during the current civil war, while another 2.2 million have either been displaced or fled abroad. I Remember Syria, with one disc dedicated to capitol city Damascus and another to its hinterlands, celebrates an ethnically and culturally diverse country noted for its hospitality and beauty. The religious chants of “Ramadan Radio,” the wonderous chaos of “Dueling Cassette Kiosks,” and Assyrian star Jermaine Tamraz’s lovely “Moumita” offer audio snapshots of the conflict’s catastrophic cultural cost.