Khaled Kurbeh and Raman Khalaf Ensemble ‘Aphorisms’ (Between Buttons) 5/5

A little way from the Brandenburg Gate, around the corner off Tiergarten Park, sits the majestic golden structure of the Berliner Philharmonie, but one of the many concert halls in Berlin. This is a city where freedom of expression is lauded; there’s a richness and acceptance of culture unlike any other. Classical music is entrenched in its psyche.

There’s little wonder Syrian duo Khaled Kurbeh and Raman Khalaf have decided to call Berlin home, releasing their debut EP on 7K! imprint, Between Buttons. Henrick Schwartz, best known for high octane dance sets at techno events, helms the production and does not let his electro background over-shadow the traditional Syrian-sound. The result is a 25-minute poetic reverence to home.

“The record was composed over the last two years and blurs the line between written music and improvised playing,” says Raman. Khaled adds that, “the pieces articulate our reflections on different topics such as solitude, absurdism and despair, all set to a fictional musical narrative, hence the title Aphorisms.”

Despite this explanation of the fictional, it’s difficult not to see this as a soundtrack to the conflict. The opening track, ‘Toska’, begins with machinery-mimicking violins, their screech giving way to a footstep-like djemba beat by Moussa Coulibaly. Throughout the record light moments of hope, represented by Khalaf’s oud and Kurbeh’s jazz-flecked piano, give way to Tom Berkmann’s ominous basslines of doom. Penultimate number, ‘Shamal’, is a respite-offering, groove-laden jam of hand-claps and rousing vocals. Aphorisms closes with the retrospective Einsamkeit Impromptu; piano centre stage, a composition straight from the concert halls of Berlin.

A recent photo of Bashar al-Assad embracing Vladimir Putin encroached the National newspapers, accompanied with the caption of ‘thank you for saving our country.’ As with most conflicts, the press focus on the toil of the people and the supposed successes of the armed forces, rather than the good that’s happening from the people affected. The success of Syria’s future does not depend on the marksmanship of a soldier, but the skill of musicians like Khaled Kurbeh and Raman Khalef, Omar Souleyman’s dance beats, or the absurdist paintings of Houmam al-Sayed. It lies with the people that continue to create and give Syrians a sense of identity instead of being collectively labelled as ‘refugee’.

Sam Turnell