Africa Express presents...


With Damon Albarn and guests

25th June 2016
Royal Festival Hall, London
As part of 14-18 NOW
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Africa Express announces that The Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music will perform a rare concert at the Southbank Centre on 25th June 2016, with Damon Albarn and guests, presented by Africa Express and as part of 14-18 NOW.

The Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music, led by principal conductor Issam Rafea, first played with songwriter and producer Damon Albarn at the Damascus Opera House in 2008. He later worked with Rafea and the Orchestra when they appeared on the Gorillaz track ‘White Flag’ – which debuted at an Africa Express concert in Paris. The Orchestra, together with Rafea, then joined Gorillaz on their 2010 World Tour that included shows at the 11th century Citadel in Damascus, Syria, as well as dates in Lebanon and across Europe and North America.

As a result of the on-going conflict, many Syrian musicians - including Rafea and other members of the Orchestra - have been forced to leave the country. This special concert, with more events to be announced later, will reunite the Orchestra, alongside Albarn and other guest performers. The event will highlight and celebrate the remarkable music culture of Syria, providing a more positive perspective to events currently seen in the news.

More festival dates for Summer 2016 to be announced soon.

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Issam Rafea, Principal Conductor, SNOAM said: “The fabric of Syrian society has been torn apart as a result of the conflict. At the Syrian National Orchestra of Arabic Music’s performance, there will be people representing both sides of the argument present both on stage and in the audience. But all are in agreement that we want it to end. This concert is a wonderful opportunity to show the world another side to the Syrian story – joy and a celebration of our music and culture. We have not played together in a long time, so we are particularly looking forward to a wonderful night at the Southbank Centre this summer.”

And Damon Albarn added – “This will be a great reunion. I’m sure Issam and the Orchestra will create a beautiful, neutral space with this positive music. We’re so used to seeing Syria through the prism of news, which is entirely a negative thing. This concert will give a completely different perspective. It’s a truly miraculous sound they create…There’s a whole choir, there’s strings, there’s soloists, there’s amazing percussion. It’s a really dynamic and joyous sound.”

To listen to Issam Rafea and Damon Albarn on BBC Radio 4 Today click here (starts at 1hr 42min 10sec).

Presented by Africa Express and Southbank Centre. Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Holland Festival. 14-18 NOW is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, and by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.