Autumn 2017 / Life on Campus
Music of the Heart

The Syed siblings use their voices to build a stronger Canada


Photo of the Syed siblings standing on a beach, smiling at the camera.

From left: Bilal, Sarah, Hana and Hasna Syed. Photo: Courtesy of Urban Hero Awards.

Four years ago, the Syed siblings posted their first YouTube video: the quartet sang a Bruno Mars hit, a capella, in their poorly lit basement music studio. They’d been performing together since childhood and thought it would be a fun way to share their music with family and friends. They’ve come a long way: The Syeds’ most recent post – a video of their song celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial – marked the first time they had used a recording studio and it was their first professional music video.

Supported, in part, by U of T’s Canada 150 Student Fund, the song “Lead You Home” is an upbeat tribute to Canada’s diversity and the energy of its youth. The video features the four siblings: Hasna (BA UTSC 2016), UTSC students Hana (a neuroscience and psychology major) and Sarah (who studies human biology and health studies), as well as brother Bilal. They appear with more than 100 young people – including many U of T students – in patriotic gear, singing and dancing at Toronto locales such as Nathan Phillips Square. It’s posted on the band’s YouTube channel, DEYS. (The band name is “Syed” spelled backwards.)

The song is available on major music-streaming services, with proceeds going to the Syeds’ Global Youth Impact – a not-for-profit that fosters youth leaders in volunteerism. In the past year, the group has undertaken campaigns to recruit student volunteers to support victims of the Fort McMurray fire and to push for living wages and safe working conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers. “It’s a platform for young people to be empowered as leaders and change-makers within their communities and abroad,” says Sarah.

Just as the siblings have always sung together – inspired by their mother, who always sang and played music around the house – they’ve also been volunteering alongside their parents and grandparents for as long as they can remember. Indeed, they combine their love of music with social justice ventures: their song “Raise Our Voices,” for one, was featured in a United Nations campaign against child labour.

“Our drive and passion for social justice comes from having strong role models in our family,” says Hana. The Syeds worked at soup kitchens around Toronto, for example, and performed at the March of Dimes Canada’s holiday event in Ontario every year. “Our parents taught us to be cognizant of issues both in Canada and abroad, and it really shaped our world view and desire to ‘make a difference’ – as cheesy as that sounds,” she adds.

With eldest sister Hasna abroad – she is doing a master’s degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science – and the others set on grad school, the Syeds may soon be scattered in four different locations. But they have no intention of stopping their music or humanitarian work. “We’re passionate about being a part of real change in the world,” says Hasna. “And we’ll do whatever it takes to make things work.”

Watch: Video of “Lead You Home”


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