Erik Hillestad is the founder of a Norwegian record label called Kirkelig Kulturverksted, or KKV. He just wound up a two-year project in which traveled to the Middle East and made recordings of sacred music of both the Christian and Muslim faiths. The result is a CD entitled “Syrian Prayers: Sacred Music from Bilad Al Aham” (Arabic for “the Levant”).
The CD features the music of church choirs, Muslim singers, groups of Syrian refugee children, and more:
On this recording, we hear a sampling of just a few of the many Christian churches in the region: Armenian Apostolic (Orthodox), Maronite, Syriac Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Chaldean Catholic, and the Assyrian Church of the East. We also hear from Muslim vocalists representing the two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shi’ite. A hear a range of languages as well: Arabic, Armenian, varieties of Eastern Aramaic (Syriac, Assyrian, Chaldean), and Greek.
The above is from a review of the CD written by Ted Swedenburg and which can be found here. The article includes several high-quality audio snippets–much like the video below in which we also get to see footage of some of the recording sessions, conversations between Hillestad and a few of the participants, as well as even some religious services. (You might want to click the “cc” button for English subtitles.)
The contributing performers on the CD are:
Kousan Male Chamber Choir, Armenian tradition
Abbas Badawy, Shia Muslim singer
Choir of the Antonine School of Music, Maronites
Choir from the Syrian Orthodox Church in Zahle, the Bekaa valley
Mahdi Kallas, Shia Muslim singer
Mount Lebanon Orthodox Byzantine Choir (SEM)
Dr. Hassan Moraib, Sunni Muslim singer
St. Joseph Chaldean Choir, Chaldean tradition
Syrian refugee children from the Assyrian tradition
Choir of the Assyrian Church of the East, Assyrian tradition
Mansour Zayter, Sunni Muslim singer
A little bit more from Swedenburg’s article:
The recording is testament to the region’s multi-confessional nature, the complex interconnections between musical practices of Christian and Muslim singers, the persistence of liturgical traditions that go back centuries, and the willingness of current practitioners to develop, innovate and adopt new instruments and styles. The region may be beset by horrible conflict, but the practitioners of religious music, Christian and Muslim, continue to reside together, at least in Lebanon, and to labor mightily, against all odds, to keep their invaluable traditions alive.
You can also find out more from the KKV website, which touts the CD as “Muslim and Christian vocal music from the rainbow region of religions.”