TootArd (Arabic for Strawberries) is a “mountain rock reggae” band from the majestic mountainside village of Majdal Shams in the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Their “Laissez Passer” documents say their identities are “Undefined” but they are sure that music will lead them. Singing in Arabic and gliding across the borders of West African, Saharan, Caribbean grooves and classical Arabic modalities, they will make every audience laugh, dance, smile, ask questions, and imagine the many possibilities for a better future…
“The echo of melodies builds bridges, a love story.”
A cherished favorite among music lovers across the Levant and far beyond, TootArd’s long anticipated return to touring has finally come. Their second album, Laissez Passer (Let Him Pass), heralds TootArd’s unrelenting joy, optimism and clever political commentary, embracing music as their remedy for the ironic reality from which they come. “No nationality, no borders, if you ask me I’m an oud player…In music, I’m a flying bird,” ring out lyrics of the album’s title track. Lifting us up, as free as a bird in flight, high above the mountains and manmade barriers of their home, TootArd’s music shares a heartwarming window into the simplicity of their longing and the universality of their hopes.
“Wherever I go, I have seeds of love and art, and a bite to eat”
Marching down the mountain from the "Reggae Jabali" (Mountain Reggae) roots that they firmly planted in their once quiet village, in Laissez Passer TootArd bring us along for their musical journey across the Saharan Desert and into West Africa, weaving together the rich music of their upbringing with influences from around the world. Their melodies move across the Pentatonic into the Rast or Beyati Arabic makamat (modes), embracing quarter tones alongside bluesy riffs on a modified electric guitar, pulsing with West African polyrhythms as jubilant horn lines bring out our smiles from ear to ear.
“A string on a piece of wood is my gun powder.”
Apple fields. Mine fields. Cherry fields. A constant reminder of the tragic history and isolated reality of the Occupied Golan, the ever-present warning signs “Danger! Mines!” are embedded among the timeless and awe inspiring hills surrounding Majdal Shams. For most of their childhood, TootArd’s members escaped their restlessness by taking to those hills, swimming in the Banyas waterfalls and countless nearby streams, hiking across prophetic landscapes, and sharing long hours by campfires in the bountiful orchards just outside of town. They soon found music and came into their own just as the internet struck their village like lightning, exposing fertile ground for Majdal Shams to become a counter-culture artistic center, led by a small but talented community of bands, artists and intellectuals. Cut from Syria’s once vibrant cultural space, disconnected from the Israeli cultural space, hours away from the Palestinian art scene, perhaps the feeling of isolation or the uniqueness of their situation gave Majdal’s younger generation the courage to start new things and define community in their own ways.
Carrying their instruments, their hope for humanity and their love for life, TootArd travel the world, grateful for each country that stamps their undefined identification documents and let’s them stay even a day or two beyond the show, knowing full well that it’s truly their music that gives them wings.