Letting off steam

The exiled Syrian group Tanjaret Daghet tell Janne Louise Andersen why so much of the rockers’ musical focus – from their recent single to the band’s name – stems from pressure.

Tanjaret Daghet, who fled their to Beirut in 2011 after they were interrogated by the authorities in their home country, Syria. Courtesy Janne Louise Andersen
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The temperature in the pressure cooker that is the Syrian rock band Tanjaret Daghet only keeps rising. First, they lived as persecuted rock musicians in Syria. Now they live in Beirut as exiles, anxious about their families and homes. Their debut album, 180 Degrees, is the product of a release of steam.

“Through making this record, we got offered a new perspective into our lives,” says the drummer Dani Shukri. “The road has been filled with growing pains, joy, suffering, rebirth, faith, hope and love.”

In October 2011, the three musicians moved to Beirut to explore the opportunities of the Lebanese music industry and to avoid military service and the harassment of the Syrian intelligence. Today, they perform as a trio and as the backing band of the electro-pop band Zeid and the Wings.

The lead guitarist and vocalist Tarek Ziad Khuluki, 24, is as energetic as the sound of his electric guitar. Short, with untamed, shoulder-length hair, stubble and an earring, he’s a contrast to the band’s lead vocalist and bass guitar player Khaled Omran, 30, who, with his tall and sturdy physique, glasses, close-cropped hair and lumberjack shirt, is a pillar of calmness. Shukri, 24, with his friendly, brown eyes, beard and long, curly hair tied back in a ponytail, unites the energies behind his drums.

“You are a big bag with a brain and soul inside. Your name is human / Your sound is low so start singing / I carry your misery and you carry me. Your name is my name,” Omran sings in Arabic on the song Tanfesseh (Little Steam Releaser) from the album.

“Our lyrics are open for anyone to understand the way they want. It’s not trying to convince anybody – we are just sharing an experience about what we do,” he says during a conversation at their house in downtown Beirut.

Their roommate, the violinist Haian Arshied, walks into the room with his iPad.

“Did you see Khaled? Your bass was bombed!” He shows them photos from the High Institute of Music in Damascus, from where Arshied, Omran and Shukri graduated. They watch in disbelief. Five upright basses are still standing, but the room is destroyed.

“Today, they killed the instruments,” Omran said. Then a discussion breaks out about whether the government could have been behind the bombing.

Growing up in an authoritarian society, and later being “disenchanted with almost all we thought was real” with the degradation of the popular uprising into an ugly bloodbath, makes the musicians extremely critical of power and media.

Shukri hums the riff of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall.

“Yeah, exactly, when I first saw that film I understood,” recalls Omran, who says that he was always breaking the rules at school. “I was angry.” Metal was an outlet, but not one that the government liked.

They explain that when rock and metal became popular in Syria, the intelligence started monitoring the metallers. On June 6, 2006, the authorities went on a raid in Syria, arresting everyone with long hair or black T-shirts on the suspicion of being Satanists.

“It was like a conspiracy,” says Khuluki, adding that the same happened with fans of techno, who were accused of being drug addicts. “Everything they don’t like, they make illegal.”

Omran had numerous encounters with the officials. During one interrogation, an officer was watching MTV Arabia. “Do you know this band?” he asked Omran, who replied that they were Bullet for My Valentine. The officer wrote it down as “Bullet”.

In the end, they told Omran the name of the person who had given him up.

“They are trying to separate the people from one another to create tension,” Khuluki says.

Tanjaret Daghet, which means “pressure cooker” in Arabic, planned album release parties in Beirut, Cairo and Amman, but not in Damascus – their hometown.

“Being away from Syria causes us deep pain and anxiety. Knowing that our loved ones are in constant danger, being away from our homes and our roots is disturbing,” Shukri says. “It’s hard to talk about hope and forward motion when your home is being torn to pieces. But this particular struggle and existential schism has helped us understand better who we are, what we want and pushes us daily to find a way to make it come true.”

The band recently released the single Ta7t El Daghet (Under Pressure), which they call “our perpetual state of being”.