Damon Albarn and the Syrian National Orchestra will open this year's Roskilde Festival. Photo: Mark Allan
Organizers said on Tuesday that this year's first performance on the Roskilde Festival’s iconic Orange stage would be from The Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music, led by conductor Issam Rafea and joined by Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn as well as other special guests.
Roskilde organizers wrote that they chose their opener to highlight “the remarkable music culture of Syria, providing a more positive perspective than events currently seen in the news.”
“This will be an extraordinary, fun, moving and unpredictable opening show. To open our Orange Stage with a Syrian national orchestra together with a large group of Western musicians is a way for us to show how music and culture can make people come together and overcome borders and conflicts,” spokeswoman Christina Bilde said.
The booking is likely to be viewed as a political statement from the Roskilde Festival, a non-profit that every year donates all of its proceeds to various cultural and humanitarian projects.
“Currently, several European countries have shut their borders, and many people view refugees as a burden. Through music we’re trying to show how people can be regarded as resources and offer something to the new communities they are now part of,” Bilde said.
"Additionally, it’s very important for us to show and highlight the proud Syrian cultural history that is currently being demolished by the country’s civil war," she added.
Albarn first joined forces with the Syrian National Orchestra for a 2008 performance at the Damascus Opera House. His Orange stage opening gig will be Albarn’s third consecutive Roskilde performance. Last year, he spearheaded a five-hour set with Africa Express and had to be physically dragged off the stage at 4am on the festival’s final night.
The Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music will perform on Wednesday, June 29.
The act joins over 50 others that have been announced for this year’s Roskilde Festival, including LCD Soundsystem, New Order, PJ Harvey, MØ, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tenacious D and Wiz Khalifa.
A total of 175 acts will play this year’s festival, which runs from June 25 through July 2, with the first four days serving as a “warm up” with lesser-known Nordic acts before the main acts hit the festival’s six stages.