Guest Artists The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians Confirmed

Africa Express today confirmed the guest artists for Africa Express presents… The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians with Damon Albarn & Guests at June 22nd at Royal Theatre Carré in the Holland Festival.

Artists from Britain and Syria will be joined by performers from Algeria, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Tunisia and the United States. Among those performing are Baaba Maal, Bassekou Kouyaté, Bu Kolthoum, Eslam Jawaad, Faia Younan, Lotfi Bouchnak, Malikah, Mounir Troudi, Noura Mint Seymali, Paul Weller, Rachid Taha and TALA who will join Damon Albarn as guests when The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, featuring current and former members of the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music, take the stage for a rare concert to showcase Syrian and Arabic music, co-commissioned by14-18 NOW and Holland Festival.

Songwriter and producer Damon Albarn first played with Syrian conductor Issam Rafea and the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music musicians at the Damascus Opera House in 2008. Albarn later worked with Rafea and members of the orchestra when they appeared on the Gorillaz track White Flag – which debuted at an Africa Express concert in Paris. The musicians, together with Rafea, later joined Gorillaz on their 2010 Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour which 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 Issam Rafea - have been forced to leave their country.  This special concert will see musicians who previously worked with Albarn, travelling from both inside and outside Syria, to reunite for an orchestral performance of Arabic music alongside Albarn and other guest performers. The event will highlight and celebrate the remarkable music culture of Syria, providing a more positive perspective than events currently seen in the news.

Issam Rafea said: “The fabric of Syrian society has been torn apart as a result of the conflict. At this 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 are looking forward to a wonderful night.”


And Damon Albarn added – “This will be a great night. I’m sure Issam and the musicians 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.”


Africa Express presents… The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians will play a number of dates across Europe this summer including: Holland Festival (22nd June), Glastonbury (24th June), Southbank Centre, London (25th June), Istanbul (27th June) and Roskilde Festival (29th June).


Tickets for the concert in the Royal Theatre Carré at Holland Festival are sold out. You can subscribe for the waiting list by sending an email to with the subject ‘waiting list Syrian’. As soon as tickets become available, we will inform the waiting list by email.