DAVID GREENE, HOST:
OK, voices there from migrants who are on the verge of getting to Western Europe. Others are at the front end of the journey. That includes one member of a Syrian rock band we're about to meet. He used to listen to Pink Floyd with friends and rehearse in a Damascus basement. Then a revolution began, and everything changed. NPR's Alice Fordham met him in Beirut.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: At the launch party of his band's first album in a crowded cafe, singer Anas Maghrebi steps up to the mic in front of a mixed crowd of hip guys and women, some in headscarves, some bearing tan shoulders, sipping icy drinks in the sultry evening.
FORDHAM: He's 26 years old, soaking up the adulation - not, perhaps, a stereotypical Syrian refugee. But later, he tells me his story, starting at Damascus University.
ANAS MAGHREBI: I was - at the same time, I was working with my friends on a band called Ana.
FORDHAM: Damascus had its fun side. An indie rock scene was growing, though police were suspicious of alternative musicians and their gigs.
MAGHREBI: They want to know what you're trying to say in this gig. You're gathering people, and you're telling them stuff. So what kind of stuff are you telling them? We need to know. We're the government.
FORDHAM: Then, 2011 brought the Arab Spring.
MAGHREBI: I mean, when it first started, it was kind of more clear. It was just the regime, the people.
FORDHAM: The band chose the people. The drummer, Rabia al Ghazzi, in particular threw himself into the protests.
MAGHREBI: He was an activist.
FORDHAM: He organized and live-streamed demonstrations.
MAGHREBI: That's what led, actually, to what happened in May, 2012, where he was followed and killed actually.
FORDHAM: They think it was pro-government militias. He was found in his sister's car with a bullet in his neck. Meanwhile, the lead guitarist had been drafted into the army.
MAGHREBI: So it was kind of the dream vanishing.
FORDHAM: Maghrebi really wanted to stay in Syria, make music for Syrians. But civil war overwhelmed the country.
MAGHREBI: There was no place for music as much as for weapons and for war.
FORDHAM: So like hundreds of thousands of Syrians, he fled across the border to Lebanon. His guitarist deserted from the army and joined him. And they made a new band.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FORDHAM: It's called Khebez Dawle, or State Bread, an oblique reference to their hope for a better world. Their songs tell the story of Syria.
MAGHREBI: There were written in order because they were inspired by the turn of events. So you see the changes that are happening in Syria or in the scene.
FORDHAM: The first were calls to protest.
MAGHREBI: But the last few songs, they started to kind of talk about peace more than just revolution.
FORDHAM: Many are sorrowful. This one, called "Reconstruction," begins, you killed me, then you blamed me because I spoke.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RECONSTRUCTION")
KHEBEZ DAWLE: (Singing in foreign language).
FORDHAM: Life is easier in Beirut. NGOs gave them grants. Lebanese musicians helped out. Finally, they played their first-ever concert.
MAGHREBI: It was a really critical moment. I mean, when you see your dream coming true, at the very first moment, you don't believe it.
FORDHAM: Maghrebi says it kind of restored his faith in people.
MAGHREBI: Because in Syria, at some point I started to believe that, OK, there's no place for music in this world. There's just places for people who are fighting - death, death, death. At some point, you forget that there's still people who are, OK, want peace or want music, want something beautiful.
FORDHAM: Right now, they're popular, their album just out. But rather than stay illegally in tiny Lebanon, his dreams have become a lot more prosaic. Beirut was a phase. Maghrebi now plans to join other band members in Turkey and try to seek asylum in Europe. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut.
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