by Country For Syria

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This track is a classic George Gershwin song, ‘Swanee’ which was popularized in minstrel shows by Al Jolson and other vaudeville performers. We chose to cover the song because of it’s ties to quite a few trends in American musical history — George Gershwin was a composer and son of Jewish refugees, who nevertheless borrowed from African American folk music and from Jazz in many of his compositions. Al Jolson, who popularized the song, was also a Jewish refugee originally from Russia.

The song was a hit in Burlesque shows, on Vaudeville, and later in the early days of Broadway. However, it was written in the style of a minstrel song. This means that it was performed by a white performer wearing blackface; with the intention of mocking the music, speech and movement of African Americans. This is one of two songs we have on the album (the other you will see in a few weeks) that come from this genre.

We’d like to highlight this history with these songs — Refugees and immigrants in the US, who, in the early 20th century days of Jim Crow and the KKK, appealed to the racism of white elites in an attempt to integrate and find a place as ‘white’ in American society. They found themselves newcomers in a deeply racially divided society, and faced discrimination themselves. By taking a side in this racial divide, they were able to deflect some of this discrimination.

This phenomenon is somewhat similar to a process we see in Turkey today; Syrian refugees are often seen as able to be integrated into Turkish culture and ‘Turkishness’, while indigenous minorities like Kurds, Armenians, and Greeks are not. Some refugees have also seen appealing to discrimination against indigenous minorities as a successful strategy to deflect some of the discrimination they themselves face.

Just as Jewish refugees faced pressure to whitewash themselves (ironically by performing in black face), some Syrian refugees feel pressure to Turkify themselves to be accepted.


I've been away from you a long time.
I never thought I'd miss you so.
Somehow I feel your love is real
Near you I long to be.
The birds are singin', it is spring time
The banjos strummin' soft and low.
I know that you yearn for me too.
Swanee, You're calling me.

How I love ya, how I love ya
My dear old Swanee!
I'd give the world to be
Among the folks in
D-I-X-I-E-ven now my
Waitin' for me, prayin' for me
Down by the Swanee.
The folks up north won't see me no more
When I go to that Swanee Shore!

Swanee, Swanee, I am goin' back to Swanee!
To my mama, mama cuz I love the old folks at home!


released July 24, 2017
Words and Music by George Gershwin

Owen Harris - Accordion, Vocals
Bashar Balleh - Guitar, Vocals
Başak Oktay Harris - Ukulele, Vocals
Kardelen Pinar Ömer - Violin
Peter Salvucci - Saxophone
Waddah Aizouki - Oud
Basel Alkhar - Darbuka, Cajon, Tambourine
Larry Klein - Bass
Jan Pavelka - Trumpet

Hakan Iğsız - Production, Mixing, Mastering



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Country For Syria Istanbul, Turkey


country for syria is an istanbul-based international music collective. with members hailing from the us, syria, turkey, czech republic, and france, it's mission is to help refugees and those affected by conflict. ... more

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