Welcome to Syrian Cassette Archives. This site is a work-in-progress, and will continue to grow. Follow us on social media for updates, featured cassettes, interviews with musicians, producers and distributors from Syria’s cassette era and unique audio-visual and written content produced by the SCA collective and its collaborators.

Syrian Cassette Archives (SCA) is an initiative to preserve, share and research sounds and stories from Syria’s cassette era (1970s-2000s). At the heart of the initial collection are hundreds of cassette tapes acquired by audio producer and archivist Mark Gergis during multiple stays in Syria between 1997 and 2010. The tapes weren’t originally collected with intentions of developing a public archive or forming a comprehensive overview of Syrian music. Instead, they reflect a period of personal research and curiosity, aided by connections made with local music shops, producers and musicians in Syria during the time. 

The material is broad in scope – offering a small window into what could be found at cassette shops and kiosks throughout Syria during the 1990s and 2000s – a time when the country’s abundant retail cassette production was at its peak. The collection 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 latter part of the 20thcentury. Amongst the tapes are recordings of live concerts, studio albums, soloists, classical, childrenʼs music and more, with special focus on the regional dabke and shaabi folk-pop music, performed at weddings, parties and festivities.

The cassette format is known globally for its transformative impact 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 time and war, compounded by rapidly-shifting recording technologies, have impacted the ways in which Syrian music is produced, consumed and remembered.

It is 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 from a variety of writers and researchers. Through close collaboration with Syrian communities globally, the initiative documents sounds and memories of a musical history that cannot be overlooked and should not be forgotten. Since its inception in 2018, the SCA team of collaborators and producers has grown, with long-term plans to expand the breadth and scope of the project. As well, hundreds of additional cassettes and/or digitized cassettes have been received from donors and collaborators.

Founder, Producer: Mark Gergis
Co-founder, Producer: Yamen Mekdad
Writer, Researcher: Hala Mustafa
Writer, Researcher: Farah Zahra
Archival consultant: Hazem Jamjoum

Heike Albrecht (DE)

Akademie der Künste, Berlin (DE), Qu Junktions (UK), SACF (Syrian Arts & Culture Festival (UK)

Supported by AFAC (Arab Fund for Arts and Culture), Gwärtler Stiftung and Hauptstadtkulturfonds Berlin.

Hana Al Bayaty, Peter Conheim, Ayesha Keshani, Christopher Khoury, Ma3azef, Sarah El Miniawy (Simsara Music), QU Junktions, SACF (Syrian Arts & Culture Festival), Rizan Sa’id, Sublime Frequencies

Khyam Allami, Issam Bellouz, Amino Belyamani (moroccantapes.com), Vicki Bennett, Alan Bishop, Alina Brennamen, Lina Brion, Cambridge Festival of Ideas, Ahmed Habib (shakomako.net), Farah Al Haddad, Ammar Mnla Hasan, James Learmonth, Daniela Nofal, Mosaic Rooms, Mezna Qato, Wajih Al-Sheikh, Matthew Stahl, Tasos Stamou, Maan Abu Taleb, Vik Sohonie, Carsten Stabenow, TUSK Festival, Sebastian Vogel, Rezan Yusef, Michael Zerang

Syrian Cassette Archives is not a for-profit initiative, and does not monetize the cassettes featured on this site. It is an independent research initiative intended for educational and cultural purposes. SCA does not claim to hold rights to the cassette materials it documents. The rights to original content produced by Syrian Cassette Archives and its contributors are reserved by the original authors and producers. SCA’s outreach, research and communication with artists, producers and companies represented here continues.