A Syrian Symphony: Behind the scenes of an emotional musical reunion.

When their home country was torn apart by war, the members of the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians were dispersed around the world. Last month, they were brought together again for brief tour, aided by Damon Albarn. The BBC World Service went behind the scenes of the rehearsals.

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The Q Factory, a hip rehearsal space in east Amsterdam, is the unlikely venue for an emotional reunion.

Here, 50 members of the Syrian Orchestra for Arabic Music have gathered to rehearse for their first concert together since civil war tore their nation apart. Many of them have not seen each other for five years.

“I cannot describe how it felt when we finally met again”, says singer Mais Harb. “There were lots of tears, lots of hugging, lots of happiness.”

Harb lives in Damascus and was lucky to get a visa permitting her to play this tour – which takes in Amsterdam, Glastonbury, London, Istanbul and the Roskilde Festival in Denmark.

“It is sad though”, says Firas Sharestan, who plays the qanun, an instrument that could well be part of the harp family, yet has 76 strings.

“We have these 10 days and afterwards everyone will go back to where they were before, and nobody knows when we will meet again.” Read More

‘It’s a record 100% honest.’

Interview translated by Kevin. Find the original article in french here.

“Everyday Robots ” is the first album of the English singer under his name. Poetic and very personal.

After twenty years of one of the most prolific careers of pop after the Blur project, Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad & the Queen, Damon Albarn reveals itself more than ever.

 This first solo album is it the start of something?

That is possible. But it may be that this is a dead end, too! I give my full attention to each of my projects. I devote the time it deserves. When it runs out of steam, I try a new approach. The idea is to continue this creative spirit, to sustain life. And that has not changed since my debut, I’ve always wanted to have new and interesting things to do. At the moment, I am about my own attention. But this is not necessarily a permanent condition. Read More

Starting in 2000, filmmaker Ceri Levy joined Gorillaz behind the scenes from their first days as a band all the way to their 2006 concerts in Manchester and Harlem. The documentary he assembled with this footage, titled Bananaz, is an amazing journey through many key moments in Gorillaz history, including the recording of Gorillaz and Demon Days. Today you will have the opportunity to ask him questions about his work on Bananaz!

What was it like working with them?

That’s a tough question straight off! It was a really fun experience for so many reasons. Firstly no one had a clue how popular it would be or just how fun it would be. It was a commitment to an idea that made it grow and grow. And as for Jamie and Damon, hopefully Bananaz shows just how funny both of them can be. Sometimes people don’t realise what a sense of humour they have and I hope the film got that across

Bananaz especially showed a lot of Jamie and Damon just doing their thing however random or crazy. And are they really as down to earth as they seem?

Musically everything starts with Damon. He invariably makes tracks and then invites his guests to work their magic on it. That is how it used to be it may be different now. But he is brilliant in the studio as he gives everyone the space they need to create their own vibe. As for the visuals that’s Jamie’s area. He is just such a superb draughtsman. And yes they really are as down to earth as they seem! With maybe the odd pop star moment! But no they are very centred, focused and down to earth.

How did you become involved with Gorillaz? How was the idea of the band pitched to you initially? And what were you thinking as you saw the whole idea of a cartoon band come together?

I became involved with Gorillaz as I had been a friend of Damon’s for many years. We met the night Blur got signed to a publishing deal as a friend of mine signed them. i.e. Smiffy! We worked a lot on Blur projects and I produced a film called Starshaped for them as well as promos and live vids etc. The idea of the band wasn’t pitched in any way. I used to go round with coffees first thing in the morning and one morning they told me about this idea they had, which was Gorillaz. They thought they were insane, I thought so too and we decided to document it! And the rest as they say is history! I think I realised it was something special the moment Ibrahim Ferrer walked into the studio with his Cuban posse. I kept thinking this is one of those special moments in life. Read More

Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn on Tech Anxiety and the Magic of Partnerships.

Few musicians have stayed as interesting for as long as Damon Albarn. As the frontman of Blur, he helped define the sound of ‘90s Britpop. With Gorillaz, he achieved the impossible of mixing hip-hop and rock in a way that didn’t suck (and in cartoon form, to boot!). With eclectic projects like The Good, The Bad & The Queen, Dr. Dee, and Rocket Juice & the Moon, he’s proven what’s possible when an artist stops worrying about his audience’s expectations.

Yet, somehow, Albarn’s latest album, Everyday Robots, is his first to be released under his own name. It’s a subtle, often somber collection of electronic-tinged songs that explore (among other things) technology, loneliness, and the relationship between technology and loneliness. WIRED spoke with Albarn about his creative process, his gadgets, and why he lets someone else run his Twitter account.

WIRED: How early in the process of making Everyday Robots did you come up with the album’s overall concept?

Albarn: The title song was one of the earliest I worked on, and I guess the concept for the full album formed around it as I began working on other songs. The concept came out of me thinking about whether technology has brought us closer to ourselves or further away from ourselves. Read More

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Scans

The Fab Four

We meet Blur on our second sortie into France, this time at a festival in Rennes. There are dozens of music festivals dotted around in Europe: next summer we will drive to ones in Italy and Denmark and Norway and one in Spain, where we’ll sit and watch Iggy Pop crowd surf from a giant stage in the foothills of the Pyrenees. But today it’s northern France and there they are, the fab four: Damon, Alex, Graham and Dave. I think, as a courtesy, to start things off on a friendly footing, it might be nice to go over and say hello. Blur have asked us to support them on a UK tour and the dates are just a few weeks away. I spot them lined up against a wall wearing matching bower boots and Fred Perry shirts, bottles of beer clutched in their hands.

“Hi,” I say, “I’m Louise, good to meet you. We’re going on tour with you lot.”

They don’t say anything. They are silent, this little gang, surly and still and suspicious: Mr. Blond, Mr. Brown, Mr. Spectacles, Mr. Ginger. Finally, after a long time, time enough to scuff my heels and wish I’d stayed put on the other side of the venue, Damon sighs and says something like: ‘Yeah, right.’ Read More

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