Xauen Music presents the Chalghi ElSaffar Ensemble as part of
its Arabesque Chicago concert series on Wednesday, January 11 at 8:00 p.m. at
Raven Theatre’s East Stage.
The Chalghi ElSaffar Ensemble performs Iraqi Maqam, a classical music form which
has few surviving masters and is one of the most sophisticated and complex
traditional music forms of the Middle East. This vocal tradition contains
elements that reach deep into Iraq’s heritage and history. Vocalists sing in
classical Arabic as well as colloquial Iraqi dialect, and are typically
accompanied by a chalghi band, traditionally consisting of santoor, djoze and
percussion. Performed primarily in Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk and Basra, the Iraqi
Maqam draws upon diverse musical traditions; melodies of Arab, Persian, Turkish,
Kurdish and Turkoman origins are woven together into a cohesive repertoire of
elaborate, semi-improvised compositions. Members of the Chalghi ElSaffar Ensemble are Amir ElSaffar, Dena El Saffar, and
Amir ElSaffar, born in 1977, is an acclaimed classical and jazz trumpet player
who in recent years has delved into a completely different musical tradition,
that of his ancestral past, the Iraqi Maqam. This journey took him to Iraq and
other countries throughout the Middle East, where he encountered several masters
of the Iraqi Maqam and learned to sing the Maqam and play the santoor, a
hammered-dulcimer native to Iraq. He has performed Iraqi Maqam nationally and
internationally, including the cities of New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis,
Bloomington, IN, Montreal, Cairo, Beirut and London. Hamid Al-Saaidi, Amir’s
teacher, who is considered by many to be the best living Maqam singer, regards
Amir as one of the important carriers of this tradition in his generation, and
has said “Amir is a great addition to the Maqam…he is preserving the true
essence of this music.”
Dena ElSaffar, an Iraqi-American, was exposed to music in a cultural setting in
the suburbs of Chicago, where she grew up attending “Iraqi parties” with her
family. She began learning the violin at the age of six. At age 17, completely
engaged in classical music, she accompanied her father to Baghdad and became
enchanted by the music of Iraq and the Middle East. In 1993, while obtaining a
viola performance degree from Indiana University, she founded the group Salaam,
a Middle Eastern music ensemble which has performed throughout the country.
Dena, who plays the viola, violin, djoze and kemanche, is the older sister of
Amir and is married to Tim.
Tim Moore grew up in the Midwest, and began playing drums at the age of 12. He
studied drumming throughout high school and college, gaining experience as a
percussionist in a variety of genres including jazz, blues and rock. A degree in
Computer Science from IU brought him to the East and West Coast as a computer
programmer, but in 1993 he began to pursue a music career. His drumming took on
greater diversity, learning rhythms and instruments from around the world, and
eventually bringing his focus to Middle Eastern percussion, which he has played
with Salaam since 1997. Tim plays the dumbek, riqq, naqqarat and bendir, as well
as drum set and guitar.
Xauen Music (www.xauen-music.com) is a Chicago-based organization dedicated to
preserving the legacy of traditional Arab, Turkish, Armenian, and Sephardic
music. Arabesque Chicago is a monthly showcase of Arabic music held in the
intimate performance space of the Raven Theatre’s East Stage.
Xauen Music also sponsors the Heartland Seminars on Arab Culture (www.heartlandseminar.com),
a week-long program of dance and music which will be held in Wisconsin from
Tickets are $12 general admission / $8 students and seniors and may be ordered
Raven Theatre is at 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago; a free parking lot is adjacent.
For information, please call Xauen Music at 847-830-8277 or 773-856-6454.