Before the civil war in Syria destroyed ancient religious sites — and scattered some of the oldest Christian communities in the world — Jason Hamacher made several trips there, taking photos and recording ancient Sufi and Christian chants.
The project got its start when Hamacher read in a book about "the world's oldest Christian music." He tracked down From the Holy Mountain author William Dalrymple, who told him there were no recordings of the music — and that "it's not a monastery in the desert; it is a Syrian Orthodox church in the middle of the city of Aleppo." Hamacher ended up staying at that church as a guest of the archbishop, who has since been kidnapped by rebels.
As Hamacher tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, he is planning a series of albums called Sacred Voices of Syria. The first, which was released this summer on his own Lost Origin Productions, is called Nawa: Ancient Sufi Invocations and Forgotten Songs From Aleppo. Hamacher isn't coming at this from the perspective of a musicologist, or as a member of a religious community. He's a drummer who's played in several punk bands in the Washington, D.C., area, including Frodus, Decahedron and Regents. You can hear their conversation at the audio link.