Stories from Kurdistan

New Project to Highlight Stories of Displaced Musicians Through Music

Songs and Stories of the Displaced

A new project seeks to document the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq through music. Called Music in Exile, it will gather recordings, photographs, and stories of displaced musicians at a time when 15 million people have been uprooted in the Middle East.

“A few years ago, I met a young musician in a Syrian refugee camp who played the saz with most of its strings missing,” says Alex Ebsary, founder of DC-based Music in Exile. “When I told him how talented he was, he smiled and said that if he had all of the strings, his music would make me cry. Now we are helping other musicians be heard.”

This fall, Ebsary will travel to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq with journalist Sasha Ingber and filmmaker Joosung Kwon to begin recording. Sound engineer Kurt Ebsary will mix the recordings in a professional studio. Their work will be hosted on an interactive website that features music, photos, video, and stories of each displaced artist.

“They may have left their loved ones, livelihoods, and possessions behind, but they carry their rich cultural traditions with them through their music,” says Ingber.

The video below was recently recorded in Khanke IDP camp, which shelters approximately 16,000 Yezidis from Sinjar. Khder, the musician featured in the clip, lived in Khana Sor on the north side of Mount Sinjar, where ISIS massacred over 100 people after they overran the town on August 4, 2014.

While more than 65 million people have been displaced worldwide, Kurdistan has taken in some 1.8 million Iraqis and Syrians. The upcoming operations to liberate the nearby city of Mosul are predicted to displace another million.

To learn more about the project and to help fund its efforts, visit

Donate to Music in Exile.

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