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Thursday, March 21, 2019

DAMASCUS (AFP) – When night falls in Damascus, gaggles of determined revellers still head out on the town seeking to drown out the thunder of outgoing artillery fire with the boom of music.

The shells are raining down on suspected rebel positions in suburbs just a few kilometers (miles) away but, while most people lock themselves fearfully in their homes, some head out to try to forget the war on their doorstep.

“I come here for a change of atmosphere,” says Mohammad, a 25-year-old car salesman, who has clearly had a drink or three.

“There is joy here,” he says of the nightclub in the upscale Shaalan neighborhood, where the barman juggles bottles of spirits.

“I want to live, I don’t want to hear any more bad news.”

On the dance floor, customers shake to a track popular among supporters of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“Don’t ask me how or why, it’s the army that protects us,” the lyric goes.

“You and I salute General Maher,” a reference to President Bashar al-Assad’s brother, who heads the elite army Fourth Division but is in fact a colonel.

Among the performers is Mudi al-Arabi, a 22-year-old rapper, who returned to Damascus just two months ago after spending the previous two years living in Morocco. He is determined to keep up a happy-go-lucky lifestyle despite the constant threat of death.

“Everyone’s going to die some day, but the Syrian people love life and the most important thing is to be happy,” he said.

“If the United States attacks us, I’m sure our army will defend us,” he added.

“Guys come here with their friends or with their girlfriends, to forget the week’s routine.”

Arabi’s songs are heavy with nostalgia for the Damascus of before the war when there were regular music festivals

Now he performs just once a fortnight at private parties. Since the uprising against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011, the authorities have been wary of public gatherings and it has become difficult to get the necessary authorisations.

“It’s hard to get permission from the security services,” Arabi said.

The nightclub does brisk business despite the war raging outside.

“We stay open until 2:00 am. It’s going well,” said 29-year-old manager Bashar.

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