Syrian Cassette Archives
is an initiative aiming to preserve, share and research sounds and stories from the cassette era (1970s-2000s) in Syria. At the heart of the initial collection are cassette tapes acquired by audio-archivist Mark Gergis during multiple stays in Syria between 1997 and 2010. The tapes weren't collected with the intention of forming a comprehensive overview of Syrian music or becoming a public archive. Instead, the collection reflects a period of personal research and exploration, aided by connections made with local music shops, producers and musicians during the time. The material is broad in scope and features an overview of musical styles from Syriaʼs many communities, including Syrian Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds and Armenians, as well as Iraqis displaced by sanctions and wars throughout the 1990s-2000s. Amongst the tapes are recordings of live concerts, studio albums, soloists, classical, religious, patriotic and childrenʼs music, with a special focus on the regional dabke and shaabi folk-pop music, performed and recorded at weddings, parties and festivities.
The cassette format is known globally for the transformative impact it had on the production, distribution and consumption of music - and Syria was no exception. Between the 1980s and early 2000s, the majority of Syria’s recorded works were issued solely on cassette, making it the de facto medium for local, regional and national recordings. Cassette imports and exports between Syria and neighboring countries also transformed cultural exchange and awareness in the region. During this period, Syrian musicians and musical styles that rarely travelled beyond their own locales began to attract interest further afield. For regional folk and pop musicians, cassette recordings of performances at celebrations helped boost visibility, expand their reach and keep them in demand for hire. A number of tapes featured in the Syrian Cassette Archives fall under this category. Such tapes often had short shelf-lives, and weren’t reissued when digital formats began overtaking cassette production in Syria. To date, the stories of these artists and their musical work have rarely been told.
Since 2011, longstanding musical networks and traditions have been violently disrupted by war and displacement. Many creators and producers fled the country, while others were forced to seek safety away from their hometowns. Much of the recorded repertoire has also been lost or destroyed as a result. The effects of war, compounded by rapidly-shifting recording technologies, have impacted the ways in which Syrian music is produced, consumed and remembered.
It is now urgent that the contemporary musical heritage of Syria and its various communities be cared for and preserved. Syrian Cassette Archives aims to contribute to this through the digitization of this musical repertoire and making the digital collection freely available online, as well as through recorded interviews with musicians and producers from the era, curated audio features and written contributions. Through close collaboration with Syrian communities, the project aims to document sounds and memories of a musical history that cannot be overlooked and should not be forgotten. Since its inception in 2018, Syrian Cassette Archives’ team of collaborators and producers has grown, with long-term plans to expand the breadth and scope of the project. Additionally, hundreds of additional cassettes have been received from donors and collaborators in Syria and abroad.
Follow Syrian Cassette Archives on social media to keep updated about the forthcoming launch of syriancassettearchives.org, plus regular cassette features, interviews with musicians, producers and distributors from Syria's cassette era, written contributions from the SCA team and collaborators, and much more.
Syrian Cassette Archives team and contributors:
Mark Gergis, Yamen Mekdad, Daniela Nofal, Hazem Jamjoum, Farah Zahra, Rizan Sa’id, Hala Mustafa, Farah Al Haddad, Ahmad El Mar