Refugees of Rap Wage lyrical war against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad

Damascus: The exiled Syrian musicians are lamenting the fate of their war-torn homeland to promote regime change in the country.

Yaser Jamous and his brother Mohamed have been displaying their talent for rap music about their homeland since the revolution began there in 2011.

They started their orchestra in 2005, as ‘Refugees of Rap’, rapping about their lives in Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital, Damascus and started recording songs, explores their story that addressed the challenges faced by the young Syrians.

Yaser said. “Before 2011, we always had the problem that we couldn’t say things directly in our lyrics,” he explains, “We always had to write something as a metaphor.”

Mohamed explains. “The main idea came from [the fact] that we find that rap music is a land where we can ask for asylum.”

The group refrained from explicitly criticising Bashar al-Assad’s government. As the government’s response grew more violent, the Refugees of Rap faced a turning point in their music: stay silent about the oppression or challenge the government’s mistreatment of its people.

Yaser said. “There was a sniper in Yarmouk and four young guys were killed,” he said. “We saw real violence. So [we thought] why should we stay silent?”

The brothers restrain to write lyrics that were critical of the government.

Mohamed said. “We didn’t choose to do this, we felt we had to do this.”

The duo secretly started to record the protest songs in a studio in Yarmouk, eventually compiling eight tracks. The brothers started to receive death threats against them and their relatives via Facebook.

“We began to feel like we had a lot of enemies,” says Yaser.

“It wasn’t just affecting us – it was affecting our family. Every time we wanted to write something, we thought about our family, so there was a lot of pressure.”

After the threat they contacted a French friend to help them. He wrote to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Within a week, the rappers received an expedited visa to France to request asylum.

“The French government considered this as a real situation that is really dangerous,” Mohamed explains. “They wanted to have us in France to continue our project.”

In November 2013, Refugees of Rap officially released their first anti-regime song, Haram, in which the rappers described the atrocities civilians have suffered during the conflict.

Just a week later, the song disappeared from Facebook and YouTube. Yaser and Mohamed re-uploaded the video on to their Youtube channel and Facebook page once again and they got the support of their fans.

In 2014 the Refugees of Rap recorded 10 more songs in Paris and recorded secretly in Yarmouk, it features 18 songs.

“Politically, rap music can create change and make people think and remember,” says Yaser. “I see music as writing history, especially in war.”