Exiled Syrian rapper finds new voice in Germany

Images of war drive new story of Syrian hip-hop culture in Berlin.

Photo by: TRT WORLD
Photo by: TRT WORLD

As he explained the meaning of his lyrics, Mohammad abu Hajjar seemed like he was trying to come to terms with the unending conflict in his homeland.

Mohammad abu Hajjar raps like the iconic Tupac Shakur – but in Arabic.

A slight man with searing, intense eyes, Hajjar’s lyrics draw upon the war in Syria. The 30-year-old fled the country in 2012 and settled in Berlin.

In exile, he has found a new way to express his anger, driven by a sense of loss.

With anger in his voice he told us, "Syrians have had enough of the suffering. We can’t take it anymore."

As he explained the meaning of his lyrics, he seemed like he was trying to come to terms with the unending conflict in his homeland.

"Hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions have been displaced, and no one cares."

​Hajjar's lyrics are often fused with very traditional sounds – one reason why his voice seem to resonate.

In some of his compositions the Oud, a traditional guitar found in Middle East, and a percussion instrument called the Duf blend with the rhythm of the violin to provide a unique backdrop for his words.

Syrians, Hajjar said, were "not only betrayed by Assad, but also by the resistance," which is a big reason, according to him, why the world has lost focus on the humanitarian crisis in their country.

"The war was all about human suffering, but the focus was hijacked by rebel factionalism and regime atrocities."

Despite the pain, Hajjar takes comfort in how Syrians have responded to the violence thrust on them:

"Look at Aleppo. The resistance has responded to regime barrel bombs and Russian air strikes in an exemplary manner. Take the the White Helmets for example."

Syria’s White Helmets are civilian first responders, mainly in rebel held areas, who have taken up the duty of rescuing people after pro-regime air attacks.

Some of the first responders have been killed in so called double-tap attacks, where an attacked site is targeted twice.  

"But regime attacks on civilians are just one part of the tragedy," said Hajjar.

Hajjar said was tortured for months while being held in captivity by the regime. He has forgotten the pain, but remembers the humiliation.

"It’s the helplessness of a person who is tied up and is being lashed. Resistance takes a new meaning in that moment."

He wrote the following words to paint a picture of what torture feels like at the hands of the regime:

​The interrogator smiles

Yesterday was a joke and today is reality

You stand, take off all your clothes in the cold

The chill grows stronger with each hit

By the second day, I start to feel the warmth of the hit of the whip

Hajjar often recites a poem by Syrian activist Mozaffar al Nawab when asked to describe just how he feels:

Oppose if you want, the angels of secret services are surrounding us. They say: you are wanted, for only five minutes, and you go in as a human being, and come out empty. There is no humanity left, except the silence. And then you ask: where is God?

The poem, according to Hajjar, speaks of the hopelessness of a situation "where Syrians are living through some of the worst atrocities in history, while the world looks on silently."

Hajjar said he would continue to raise his voice for the people of Syria and hopes the violence in his country will come to an end.

"There will be peace in Syria one day, I am certain of it, but millions of lives have already been destroyed." 

Authors: Ali Mustafa, Bunyamin Kasap, Ilker Tas