The Story of a Syrian Immigrant: Nano Raies
By: Ivey Noojin/Arab America Contributing Writer
Nano Raies is a Syrian-American singer, songwriter, and composer who currently lives in Boston. She was the first Syrian to attend Berklee College of Music, which is one of the best schools for music in the country. She immigrated to the United States with hardly anything and has been advocating for fellow members of the community to follow their dreams.
“Nothing is completely impossible,” Raies said.
Nano Raies sings in Arabic; it is a way to maintain a connection to her roots in Syria. Even though she has forged a new identity for herself as Arab American, a part of her will always be in her homeland, especially since her parents are still there.
“I love to put my Arabic soul into everything,” Raies said in an interview with CNN.
Raies combines the two cultures with grace and has created a platform for this new identity among Arab Americans due to her fame.
Nano Raies was born in Homs, Syria. She originally studied architecture in Aleppo for five years, since she liked to draw and still wanted to incorporate some sort of art in her life.
“Music was not in the picture at all,” Raies said.
She had to make her dream of being a singer only a hobby. When she was 18 years old, her mom heard her singing in the shower and validated Raies love of singing. She brought her daughter to a group of people who all sang together, but it was still only a hobby.
However, the war in Syria that began in 2011 completely altered her perspective; the situation prompted her to dedicate herself to music.
“I couldn’t fight it anymore. I didn’t want to waste more time,” Raies said.
Every Wednesday during the war she would travel to Damascus for a one-hour singing lesson. Even though her dad thought it was only a silly dream, her mom believed in her and supported her dedication to music in addition to being a fellow artist and a painter.
Due to the war, Raies later fled to Lebanon and started researching online for her options for the next chapter in life. That was when she found Berklee.
Nano Raies in the U.S.
Nano Raies moved to the United States without anything: no plan for how to pay for college, no family and no one she knew in the region. It was hard to start her life from scratch, but to this day, she continues to feel like the sacrifices she and her family made were worth it.
“I couldn’t wait to start my life and reinvent myself,” Raies said.
She was finally able to dedicate herself to music, instead of pursuing a career that she thought her family would approve. She could embrace her true identity like never before, and she fell in love with Berklee. Raies loved how people from around the world attended the college. They were all very friendly toward her, and she was able to learn about so many different cultures.
“I didn’t feel very foreign or alone,” Raies said.
Even though she still feels like a part of her is still in Syria, Raies has been able to integrate into her surroundings in Boston. She has chosen the parts from both cultures that make her better, which is evident in her newfound fame as a songwriter, composer, and of course singer.
“I love to make a fusion between the Middle Eastern Arabic and the Western,” Raies said in an interview with CNN.
Lately, she re-wrote the Beatle’s famous song “Drive My Car” to commemorate Saudi women’s newfound ability to drive. She changed the words in the Arabic version to mean, “Habibi, I can drive my own car,” instead of the original version where the woman says the man can drive her car.
Besides this famous song, she has also been invited to several concerts, including one with Grammy winner trumpeter Frank London in Boston, a performance at the Massachusetts State House and the Syria Fest in Washington, D.C. She also organized a fundraiser concert called “Songs for Syria” at Berklee College.
Nano Raies encourages everyone to dream. She believes that if you do not lose faith that everything will work out in your favor.
“I would really love to be a role model for those who know they can do anything they want,” Raies said.