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As Aleppo Crumbles, Local Professor Mohamed Alsiadi Preserves Its Music

By Alex Silverman

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Mohamed Alsiadi describes the Aleppo of his youth as a vibrant city bursting with diversity, where the arts could flourish and he was able to study music, his life's passion. "I was lucky to grow up with that culture," said the Fordham and Rutgers University professor who has lived in the U.S. for about 20 years.

For most of that time, fears that home city was running out of time have been weighing on his mind. It began in earnest in the early 2000s, said Alsiadi, amid President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" rhetoric and the start of the Iraq war. He recalled the destruction of an Iraqi radio station. "Syria's going to be next," he thought.

If he could not save his city, he decided he would be the one to save its music. "You cannot kill music," he said. "You cannot arrest music. Around 2004, he began collecting recordings from friends and from Aleppo's radio stations - music with influences from all over the world, but a genre his city made its own.

For Alsiadi it was not simply about preserving the music. He wanted to "keep it alive." So he began to notate the recordings for others to play.

Six years ago, around the time the Syrian uprising began to unfold, Alsiadi began collaborating with the Syrian musician Malek Jandali. They combined their talents - Alsiadi as researcher and Jandali the composer - and formed the Malek Jandali Trio. Together they have made melodies from Aleppo available all over the world, through both in-person concerts and YouTube videos.

Alsiadi did not realize at the outset how necessary this work would be. "I've seen my friends being killed or displaced or forced to do something else," he said. "We've lost all these beautiful musicians, believe it or not. Masters."

The vibrant city he knew has been reduced to rubble, and its people scattered all over the globe. "Psychologically they are very sick, tired," he said. "It's hard to process. Years from now, we can grieve, cry, scream."

Alsiadi insists his aim is apolitical, and his mission is the single thing he ensured he would be able to do: Give Aleppians, wherever they have ended up, their music back.

"It's turned out to be the project of my life," he said." I'm damn lucky to be a part of it."

The Malek Jandali Trio will perform at Carnegie Hall, with Alsiadi on the lute, on Feb. 4.

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