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Cesar Chelala

The Redemptive Power of Music

The photograph is the image of desolation. In a room that seems to have been devastated by a hurricane, shattered windows and furniture, debris everywhere, and a few torn and winding curtains that remain as mute witnesses to the disaster, a man sitting on his bedroom bed smokes a pipe while listening to a record.

The man sitting is Mohammed Mohiedin Anis, also called Abu Omar, a 70 year-old man. The place is the al-Shaar neighborhood in Aleppo , scene of one of the most violent wars of recent times. His house has just been bombed and Abu Omar refuses to leave it. Instead, he lights his pipe, puts a record in the gramophone – which can work because it is manual – and is lost in his thoughts.

Abu Omar is a collector of vintage cars, most of them inherited from his father. Among them was a 1957 Mercury Montclair, a 1949 Hudson Commodore, a 1958 Chevrolet Apache truck and a 1948 Buick, all of which would delight any serious collector. All of them, however, are destroyed, a fact which does not intimidate Abu Omar who promises to repair them.

To a group of journalists who visited him, Abu Omar told them: ¬ęI can start from scratch. I am willing to rebuild my house, my factory, even the cars. Nothing will discourage me, destroy me, or surrender me. You have to keep your head up.‚ÄĚ

Paradoxically, the image of desolation in photography is also the image of hope and courage. An old man with all his material possessions destroyed who still wants, in the serenity of his home, to continue listening to his gramophone shows the magical redeeming power of music.


cesar chelala
Photo Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images
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