Tag Archives: Arabic music

Artist Profiles: Souhail Kaspar

Souhail Kaspar

Master percussionist Souhail Kaspar is known for his brilliant technique, scintillating performances and impeccable teaching skills. His musical sensitivity and ability to improvise and embellish the basic rhythmic patterns familiar to Arabic Music, as well as his extensive knowledge of ethnic musical history have made him unique.

Mr. Kaspar was born in Lebanon, and trained at Nadi al-Fonun al-Arabia (conservatory of Arabic Traditional Music) in Aleppo, Syria, where he became proficient in both classical and ethnic rhythmic patterns and techniques and received a Degree in Classical Arabic Performance. In his career, he has traveled extensively throughout the world. His expertise has found him performing with Arabic superstars such as Feiruz, Faiza Ahmed, and working with legendary Egyptian composers such as Farid El Atrash, Sayyed Makowi and Hanni Mehanna, and playing in front of many celebrities and dignitaries as Pope John Paul II, as well as Ronald Reagan.

Additionally, he has an extensive body of recorded work, including credits on the soundtracks for the movies The Prince Of Egypt, The Siege, Sinbad and as a guest percussionist with the cutting edge Kronos Quartet.

Though his primary instrument is the Egyptian drum known as tablah [also spelled tabla]or dumbek, he is also proficient on tar (a large frame drum), large and small tambourines known as mashar and riqq, respectively, as well being an expert in various Persian and Turkish instruments. His skillful presentation and comprehensive teaching technique has led to him performing and conducting master seminars at prestigious institutions such as The Brooklyn Academy of Music, UCLA, as well as a yearly stint at Mendocino Middle Eastern Music Camp, an intensive week-long series of workshops held in Northern California. He often performs (and teaches ) with peers such as renowned oudist John Bilezikjian, multi-faceted musician Simone Shaheen, and prominent ethnomusicologist Dr. Ali Jihad Racy, Professor of Ethnomusicology at UCLA.

As a teacher, Mr. Kaspar is gifted, passing on not only skills but academic knowledge of Middle Eastern music to his students, many of them Westerners not previously familiar with the complex patterns of Arabic music.

Currently, Souhail Kaspar lives in Los Angeles and is performing, recording, and teaching both nationally and internationally.


Mystical Legacies, with Ali Jihad Racy (Lyrichord, 1997)
Awzan – Arab Rhythmic Modes (Near East music, 2005)
When The Soul Is Settled: Music Of Iraq (Smithsonian Folkways, 2006)


Artist Profiles: Marcel Khalife

Marcel Khalife

Marcel Khalife was born in 1950 in Amchit, Mount-Lebanon. He studied the ud (the Arabic lute, also known as oud and l’ud) at the Beirut National conservatory, and, ever since, has been injecting a new life into the ud. “My grandfather was a fisherman and he used to sing songs of the sea,” Khalife recalls. “Then I used to go to church and listen to Christian music, and also to Islamic recitations of the Koran. In Lebanon we have a marriage of Islamic and Christian culture. That really helped to form my musical awareness.”

From 1970 to 1975, Marcel Khalife taught at the conservatory and other local institutions. During that same period, he toured the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the United States giving solo performances on the ud.

Ud playing was traditionally constrained by the strict techniques that governed its playing. Highly talented and skillful musicians such as Marcel Khalife were, however, able to free the instrument from those constraints and thus greatly expanding its possibilities.

In 1972, Marcel Khalife created a musical group in his native village with the goal of reviving its musical heritage and the Arabic chorale. The first performances took place in Lebanon. 1976 saw the birth of Al Mayadeen Ensemble. Enriched by the previous ensemble’s musical experiences, Al Mayadeen’s notoriety went well beyond Lebanon. Accompanied by his musical ensemble, Marcel Khalife began a lifelong far-reaching musical journey, performing in Arab countries, Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and Japan.

During Lebanon’s civil war, he risked his life performing in bombed out concert halls, bringing his music and the great poetry of the Arab world to his war-ravished country. “Since I was born,” he says, “I’ve felt I had a rebel’s soul within me. I rejected things that might be inherited, but that were wrong.”

In 2002, European television networks broadcast a documentary on Marcel Khalife. A DVD, entitled Voyageur, expands the original 90-minute program into a three-hour feature with additional performances filmed at concerts and in studios. In all, the DVD presents 33 selections from Khalife’s repertoire, which ranges from compositions for solo ud and vocal settings of Arabic poetry to orchestral compositions, films cores and ballets.

In 2003, the San Francisco International Arts Festival (SFIAF) and The San Francisco World Music Festival announced a commissioned project for the creation of a new evening length orchestral work with libretto by Marcel Khalife, in collaboration with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra (music director, Benjamin Simon) and women’s vocal ensemble, KITKA (artistic director, Shira Cion) and soloists Omayma Al-kalil (vocals), Rahman Asadollahi (garmon: Azerbajani accordion), Hai Pu (Chinese percussion) and Zhang Xiao-Feng (erhu: Chinese fiddle). The theme of the new work was “Embracing Global Peace.”

About his CD Caress Khalife says, “This work attempts to elevate Arabic music to a level that allows it to express profound human emotions, not by mere performance, but by empowering the music to mature and develop into a universal language of expression.”

His composition is noted for being deeply attached to lyrical text. Through his association with great contemporary Arab poets, most notably Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, he seeks to renew the character of Arab song, breaking its stereotypes and advancing the culture of the society that surrounds it.

“I do not fit in a cultural box, nor do I want to,” says Khalife, who now lives in Paris. “I have strived all my life to break free of old traditional constraints, to let music speak for itself unshackled by predetermined traditional rules. I have defied identities and categorizations, which only serve to blind us to the vastness and complexity of humanity. There are no set lenses with which I should be looked at. My music, it all comes together for the sake of humanity.”

The second trait has been a consistent message of peace and justice. In 2004, during his US tour, he said: “More than ever, we all have to work much harder for peace…Peace cannot be imposed upon a people by a certain political power or agenda. Peace is achieved through respect, understanding of others and their culture; it is achieved by giving up fear of others; it is achieved through dialogue.”


Promesses De La Tempête – Promises of the Storm (Le Chant Du Monde, 1976)
Ghinä’iyat Ahmad Al Arabi (1984)
Dreamy Sunrise ‎(Nagam Records, 1990)
Peace Be With You ‎(Nagam Records, 1990)
Ode To A Homeland (Nagam Records, 1990)
Summer Night’s Dream (Nagam Records, 1992)
Of All The Beautiful Mothers (Nagam Records, 1994)
Arabic Coffeepot (Nagam Records, 1995)
Jadal (Nagam Records, 1995)
Magic Carpet ‎(Nagam Records, 1998)
The Bridge ‎ (Nagam Records, 2001)
Concerto Al Andalus (Nagam Records, 2002)
Stripped Bare (Nagam Records, 2002)
At The Border ‎(Nagam Records, 2003)
Happiness ‎(Nagam Records, 2003)
Caress (Nagam Records, 2004)
Taqasim ‎(Connecting Cultures, 2007)
Sharq (‎Connecting Cultures, 2007)
Fall Of The Moon (Nagam Records, 2012)


Artist Profiles: Naser Musa

Naser Musa

A Jordanian of Palestinian descent, singer/songwriter Naser Musa started playing ‘ud, a Middle Eastern lute, at an early age while living in Amman, Jordan. In addition to the ‘ud, he also studied singing Arabic music. He moved to the United States in 1982 and earned a degree in music from California Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Musa performs regularly at concerts and festivals around the world. An ‘ud virtuoso and a valued studio musician,


Hope Is The Way (BCBG Max Azria Entertainment, 2004)
Body Of Lies, soundtrack (Varèse Sarabande, 2008)
From Night To The Edge Of Day (Six Degrees Records, 2011)
Sumud (Six Degrees Records, 2012)


Artist Profiles: Issam Rafea

Issam Rafea

Born in Kuwait on 1971, Issam has studied in Kuwait and Syria at the High Institute of Music in Damascus as a student of Fayez Zahr El-Din, Aref Abdallah and Askar Ali-Akbar, He received his BA degree in Oud and Double Bass in 1995. Currently, in addition to his position as Chair of the Arabic Music Department at his alma mater in Damascus, he is on faculty of the Arab Conservatory where he teaches both Oud and western Harmony. Issam is also an active composer and arranger for Syrian TV and theater.

Fourth prizewinner at the Cairo Improvisation Competition 2000 (1st in the Oud category), Issam is a reputed soloist and the principal conductor of the High Institute of Music’s Arabic ensemble in residence in Damascus Syria.

His performances have taken him to world-renowned concert halls in France, Spain, Morocco, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Kuwait and Syria; in addition to his several solo appearances with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra. Issam was awarded the second prize at the “Arabic Traditional Ensembles” competition in Cairo, Egypt, 1997.

He is a member of Hewar group.


Hewar (Incognito, 2005)
Rigodon (Incognito, 2007)
Insán ‎(Incognito, 2007)
Letters to a homeland, with Hewar (Dreyer Gaido Musikproduktionen)
Pipa Potluck – Lutes Around the World (Innova, 2015)
Life As Is (Innova Records, 2018)


Artist Profiles: Bassam Saba

Bassam Saba

Bassam Saba is a native of Lebanon, where he studied ‘ud, violin, and nay (Arab flute) at the Lebanese National Conservatory. In 1976, he moved to France where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Western Classical music and Flute Performance from the Conservatoire Municipals des Gobelins in Paris. During this time, Mr. Saba was an essential member of Marcel Khalife’s ensemble, Al-Mayadeen, playing nay, violin, and flute.

He moved to Moscow in 1985 and received a Master’s Degree in Flute Performance and Music Education at the Gnessin Musical Pedagogical Institute. After a period as Musical Director of the Beirut Symphonic Band, he moved to New York, and began performing with Simon Shaheen’s various musical ensembles, and becoming one of the premiere members of Shaheen’s Qantara group and the Near Eastern Music Ensemble, among many other musical activities.

Throughout his extensive career, Bassam Saba has been performing various styles of music ranging from Western Classical music, popular and traditional Arab music, as well as Arab fusion music. Considered one of the most outstanding nay players (end blown reed flute) and ‘ud players (Middle Eastern lute) in the United States, he has toured throughout the Middle East, Europe, Canada, South America, Australia, Africa and Japan.

In 2007 he was recognized by the National Arab American Museum as one of the 10 most outstanding artist of the last decade to make a significant difference in bringing the beauty and rich cultural history of Middle East through music to American Audiences.

His accomplishments include recording and performing with the top International, Middle Eastern and American celebrity artists including composers/musicians Ziad Rahbani, Yo Yo Ma, Marcel Khalife, Wu Man, Simon Shaheen, Toufic Farroukh (in The Absolute Orchestra) and International acclaimed vocalists Fairuz, Kadim (Kazem) Al Sahir, Majida al-Roumi, Wadi al-Safi, Khaled, Santana, Souad Massi, just to name a few.

In addition to his extensive work with Simon Shaheen, Saba composes and performs with his own musical ensemble Myriad, and is directing the Middle Eastern Ensemble at Harvard University.


Little Secrets, with Toufic Farroukh (Silex, 1998)
Blue Flame, with Simon Shaheen (2001)
Myriades Soukoun (2001)
Drab Zeen, with Toufic Farroukh (Le Chant Du Monde, 2002)
Off the Map, with Silk Road Ensemble (2009)
Wonderful Land (2009)
Jerusalem Trilogy, with Matt Herskowitz (2010)
Provenance, with Maya Beiser (Innova, 2010)


Artist Profiles: Charbel Rouhana

Charbel Rouhana

Charbel Rouhana, one of the finest ud players in Lebanon. Born in 1965 in Aamchit (a town north of Beirut), Charbel pursued his music education at the Holy-Spirit University in Kaslib and obtained his Diploma in ud instrumentation in 1986 and his M.A. in Musicology in 1987.

One of his major achievements is establishing a new methodology in playing the ud. This method was published and adopted by the National Conservatory of Music and the Faculty of Music in the Holy Spirit University-where he has been teaching ud courses since 1986 till present.

Charbel Rouhana has been performing live events since 1984, touring several countries, venues, and festivals. He also collaborated in composing musicals for choreographer Abdul Haleem Caracall’s shows: “Elissa-The Queen of Carthage” (1995), “Andalusia-Lost Glory” (1997), and “Bleilit Kamar” (1999). Winner of several national awards, Charbel also won the first prize at the Hirayama Competition in 1995 in Japan, for Best Composition entitled “Hymn of Peace”.

Charbel Rouhana

According to Charbel, Oriental-Arabic music is facing a renaissance period incarnated by traditional instruments especially the ud which is ancient and always related to traditional singing and classical instrumental Arabic music. Charbel’s musical writings succeeded in transforming this Arabic traditional instrument into a multinational, modern instrument able to communicate with other cultures and music, with an emphasis on the Oriental-Arabic style.


Salamat (Voix De L’Orient, 1997)
Mada (Voix De L’Orient, 1998)
Alani (Voix De L’Orient, 2000)
Vice Versa (2003)
Sourat- Trait D’Union (Forward Music, 2004)
The Art Of The Middle Eastern Oud (ARC Music, 2004)
Dangerous (Forward Music, 2006)
Handmade (Forward Music, 2008)
Oud Fusionista (CIA, 2008)


Artist Profiles: Fairuz


Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon in 1935, Nouhad Haddad, beter known as Fairuz is an Arabic music superstar. She began her musical career as a teenager. From chorus girl at the Lebanese radio station in the late 1940s, to critical and popular acclaim from the 1950s to today, Fairuz is acknowledged not only for her musical talent and contribution, but also as a cultural and political icon. A symbol of a people, a heritage, a quest for peace, and of humanity.

During most of her career, Fairuz reflected two other great artists, Assi and Mansour Rahbani. They wrote the lyrics and composed her tunes. Today, many of her songs reflect the composing talent of Ziad Rahbani who is Fairuz’s son. Her songs testify to the Rahbani musical genius, as well as to Fairuz’s broad musical background.

Referred to as “The Soul of Lebanon” in the 1970s, Fairuz became a pre-eminent figure, a superstar of current music in the Arab world. Together, the Rahbani family is both a school of music and a cultural phenomenon.

For the girl who loved to sing to her friends and neighbors in the little village, it was an overwhelming experience when, in 1957, Lebanon’s President Chamoun presented Fairuz with the “Cavalier”, the highest medal ever conferred on a Lebanese Artist.

In 1969 a memorial Lebanese stamp was issued in her name. Meeting royalty, once an experience she had expected to encounter only in the fairy tales of her childhood, has become a reality for her.

She is routinely welcomed, greeted, received, and honored by today’s world leaders. In 1963, King Hussein of Jordan presented her with the Medal of Honor, followed by his Majesty’s Gold Medal in 1975. In Brazil, the crowds attempted to carry her with her limousine. In 1981, while touring in the U.S., Senators, Governors and Mayors of various cities honored her. A Harvard University scholar, Barry Hoberman, even wrote: “Quite simply, Fairuz is one of the world’s nonpareil musicians and outstanding Artists, an international treasure of the order of Rostropovich, Sills, Ravi Shankar, Miles Davis, Sutherland, Pavarotti and Dylan.”

Her discography is extensive. Compilations include Legend – The Best of Fairuz, The Very Best of Fairuz, Vol. 1, Lady & The Legend and The Legendary Fairuz: Lebanon.


Transfixing Arabic Sounds from Philippe El Hage and Youssef Hbeisch

Philippe El Hage and Youssef Hbeisch – Asrar (independent release, 2016)

Asrar is a beautiful collaboration between Lebanese piano virtuoso and composer Philippe El Hage and Palestinian percussion maestro Youssef Hbeisch, who uses spellbinding bendir frame drums.

The two musicians and a handful of guests cross into various musical territories, incorporating mesmerizing Arabic modes, western classical music, trance atmospheres, and contemporary jazz.

Asrar was recorded in Switzerland and Dubai and features Philippe El Hage on piano; Youssef Hbeisch on bendir, bass bendir, bongos, shakers, jembe, spring drum, bells and darbuka.

Guests include Houry Dora Apartian-Friendly on vocals; Ramu Maalouf on flute; and Ongjen D. Beader on electric bass.


Buy the digital version of Asrar


Artist Profiles: Sameer Makhoul

Sameer Makhoul & Itamar Doari

Composer, musician and singer Sameer Makhoul was born in Peki’in in Galilee, a village renowned for its poets. Sameer Makhoul cornes from a family of musicians and poets whose roots in the village reach back for generations, and was profoundly influenced by the cultural environment in which he grew up.

He believes that the village springs, the olive trees of his forefathers and the green citrus groves were the sources which gave him life and the strength, even as a child, to study and create music on the ud and the violin. A further vital source of support and encouragement was his elder brother, the poet and musician Makhoul Makhoul.

Sameer Makhoul is a graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music, where he studied under the internationally famous ud player, Taiseer Elias. He has appeared, both as a soloist and as a member of the choir, with the Andalusian Muwashahat Orchestra (Tarshiha) and in many oilier ensembles.

Makhoul has participated in study workshops in France, and, as an ud-player, has represented Palestine at the Dresden Lute Festival in Germany.

He teaches ud, violin and Arab music theory at the School of Ethnic Music at Bar Ilan University and at the Center for Oriental Music in Jerusalem. He is also musical director of the Arab-Jewish orchestra at Jorel al-Enab music center in the Hinom Valley in Jerusalem.


Athar (Magda, 2004)


Artist Profiles: Amos Hoffman

Amos Hoffman

Composer, guitarist & ud player Amos Hoffman started as a classical guitar player. On his 8th birthday, his father gave him an ud as a present. He never studied the ud formally but taught himself, and over the years became the talented composer & player he is today.

At the age of 20, he left for New York where he played for several years with top jazz musicians such as Dennis Charles, Avishai Cohen, Sam Newsom (with whom he had also recorded an album), Collins and others. He also recorded an album (for the Spanish Fresh Sound label) with Jorge Rossy, Duane Eubanks and Avishai Cohen.

During his stay in New York, he studied ud and maqam (the Arabic modus) with the famous Lebanese ney & ud player Bassam Saba (who played with Simon Shaheen). After returning home to Israel at the end of 1999, he began to compose the music that would eventually become the tracks on Na’ama, his most recent work. On Na?ama, Hoffman plays homage to the traditions of classical Arabic music the taqasim (improvisation) and the maqam (scales). All 12 tracks are original compositions, inspired by the great Arab composers of the 20th Century. Not completely content to simply play his instruments, he’s also taught himself to build them. To date, he has built several ouds, including the one he plays on Na’ama.

Hoffman has recorded solo albums and collaborated with several artists in Israel and worldwide including Avishai Cohen, Kiko Berenguer (Spain), and Jan Mlynarski (Poland).

In 2013, Amos was awarded one of Israel’s most prestigious prizes – The Landau Prize for Arts and Sciences for Outstanding Achievement in the field of Jazz.

Hoffman’s album Back to the City follows in the tradition of the great guitarists of the old school, such as Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell. Back to the City includes original compositions and standards, with a lineup of old friends bassist Omer Avital, drummer Vince Ector, saxophonist Asaf Yuria, trumpeter Duane Eubanks and special guest Itai Kriss on flute.


The Dreamer (Act, 1999)
Na’ama (Magda, 2006)
Evolution (RazDaz, 2008)
Carving (Razdaz Recordz, 2010)
Back to the City (2015)
Pardes (2018)