Wajd began in 2010 as a straightforward documentary about a sacred musical tradition in Syria. Interrupted by the devastation of war and the forced exile of the musicians, it became instead a masterpiece of compassion, which deepens our understanding of human reality and what enables us to bear it.
Inspired by the traditional, sacred music of Syria, filmmaker Amar Chebib travelled to Damascus and Aleppo in 2010 intending to make a documentary about this ancient musical form and the people who keep it alive. Six months later the revolution began, escalating into a bloody civil war and one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time. Touched by the harrowing experiences of the friends he had made, the film was transformed to tell the stories of three of those musicians turned refugees, as they attempted to navigate and rebuild their lives in exile.
Over five years, we witness the struggles of Ibrahim, Abdulwahed, and Mohamed as they face their traumatic past. Intimate footage of their daily lives weaves together with bittersweet musical performances, extremely rare Sufi ceremonies, and poetic imagery of a pre-war Syria that no longer exists. What unfolds is a cinematic meditation on loss, yearning, and faith.
Mohamed and Ibrahim are both from Aleppo (Haleb), while Abdulwahed is Palestinian (originally from Haifa) born and raised in Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus. Ibrahim remains close to the border with Syria in Gaziantep, Abdulwahed is in Istanbul and Mohamed in Holland but the greater exile, as this film so profoundly communicates, is from the homeland of the soul.
Born to a refugee family, the impact of his own exile is immeasurably painful for Abdelwahed. As he gradually becomes able to tell his story, however, we learn he has been almost broken by what torture in Syria had done to him and to those who had shared his horror. All that really holds him is the daily desire to keep playing his instrument.
The death toll from the war was highest in the Aleppo region and the old city of Aleppo itself was devastated with centuries old, mosques, markets and houses also ripped brutally out of being For Mohamed, his remembrance of Aleppo, and what it was before the destruction wreaked by war, is almost enough. He can be back there through a spiritual connection with its essence. For Ibrahim, his yearning to return to his now destroyed home city, is almost unbearable.
It is clear for each of them that their music, and all that is embodied within it, allows them to find some comprehension and meaning in the aftermath of destruction and atrocity.
Wajd is a tough, beautiful and very important film that cannot really be described or reviewed in any way that does justice to its profound multiplicity and depth of meaning. Its absolute honesty deepens our understanding of human reality while taking us on a spiritual and musical journey to help us bear that reality.
It is a masterpiece of compassion that shows how faith and divine remembrance can be found and kept through the prayer of song and the transcendent beauty of a musical tradition. It is also an unequivocal requiem for the city of Aleppo and for all of the many lives that were lost there. It can only be watched with equal compassion, reverence and absolute openness to the completeness of the story it tells.