Artist Profiles: Issa Boulos

Issa Boulos

Ud player, composer and teacher Issa Boulos was born in Jerusalem, Palestine, 1968. Issa Boulos comes from a family of both musical and literary traditions and began to study voice at the age of 7. At that early age, Issa showed extraordinary talent in singing Arab classical maqam repertoire. At the age of 13 he entered the Institute of Fine Arts in Ramallah to study the ‘ud with Abu Raw`hi ‘Ibaidu. He graduated in 1985 and worked in Ramallah as an arranger of folksongs and a musician in the ensemble of Sariyyat Ramallah Dance Group and Released al-‘Ashiq in 1986, and in al-Ra`hh’la, with composer Jamil al-Sayih and Released Rasif al-Madinah in 1989.

During the 1990s, under the influence of newly developed musical trends, Boulos’s career took a new direction. He pursued music composition in response to a contemporary concern for revolutionary cultural change and richer and more flexible responses to widely different dramatic requirements. He adopted the performance practices, educational principles and aesthetic values of Western art music while adapting his art to suit the sensibilities of Palestinian politicized taste and maintained a link with the maqam tradition by continuing its ancient line of oral transmission. From 1991 to 1993, Issa composed over 200 instrumental and vocal pieces and one large-scale work titled Kawkab Akhar.

He was appointed director of Birzeit University’s musical group Sanabil in addition to training Al- Funoun Popular Dance Troupe and Sareyyet Ramallah Troupe for Music and Dance. This era was the most experimental, challenging and yet prolific. It laid out conventional and modern compositional devices as abstract tools rather than absolute. His fascination with music towards higher levels of expression and interpretation encouraged him to examine other aspects of sound, and simultaneously broaden his artistic perspective, which was substantiated by the increasing number of questions concerning music making.

In 1994 he moved to Chicago, where he studied music composition at Columbia College Chicago with Gustavo Leone and Athanasios Zervas and later at Roosevelt University with Robert Lombardo and Ilya Levinson. In 1998 he co-founded the Issa Boulos Quartet, performing his original contemporary compositions that ranged from classical Arab compositions to jazz. After completing his Masters in 2000, he spent one year in his hometown where he was active as a composer, educator, ‘udist, and instructor of Western theory, ‘ud, chorus, ensemble and theory of Arab music at the National Conservatory of Music, Ramallah.

Issa has given workshops and lecture-demonstrations at several American institutions and colleges. He is cofounder of Sama Music, leader of the al-Sharq Ensemble, the Boulos Ensemble and member in Lingua Musica, and has recently been appointed director of the University of Chicago Middle East Ensemble. Although he has continued to write instrumental and vocal compositions, Boulos is best known for his theme works: Kawkab Akhar (1993), a large-scale instrumental work that capped his early stylistic development composed during the Palestinian Intifada, which was followed by ‘Arus al-Tira (1994), composed while he was an undergraduate; Samar (1998), and his extended work al-Hallaj (2000) which is a series of composed Sufi poems penetrating the philosophy and tragic ending of Abu al-Mughith al-Husayn Ibn Mansur al-`Hallaj.

His subsequent works include traditional Arabic compositions and arrangements, jazz, and film and theatre scores, notably those for Lysistrata 2000, Catharsis and recently the film The New Americans. In his orchestral composition, Shortly After Life, Boulos used a variety of Western classical compositional techniques; the work is a tribute to his father Ibrahim Boulos.

Boulos’s music still depends extensively on the melodic material of maqam; by treating this material through improvisations and using various musical techniques. His blend of tradition and innovation has forged important musical links between the Arab world and the West. Issa is currently involved with the Arab Classical Music Society (ACMC) that he established in 2003. The Society is launching an archive for Arab classical music and preparing for the release of the first volume of the Anthology of Arab Classical Music. As for his current personal projects, Issa is applying final touches on his new work Reef for kemenche and percussion. It will be released later in the Spring of 2004. http://home.uchicago.edu/~iboulos/ Contact Issa Boulos directly at iboulos@uchicago.edu. Palestine Middle East

Discography

Rif (Nawa Institute, 2007)
Al-Hallaj (Nawa Institute, 2008)
Being Peace (Nawa Institute, 2010)
Shams W Hawa (Nawa Institute, 2011)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.

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