Naseer Shamma was born in 1963 in Kut, a village on the Tigris River in Iraq. He began studying the ud at the age of 12 in Baghdad, following in the footsteps of Jamil and Munir Bachir. When he was 11, Shamma saw the ud for the first time, in the hands of a stylish music teacher . Although Shamma’s father, a shop owner, was religiously conservative, he did not object to his son’s artistic ambitions. In 1985,
Shamma played his own compositions at his first concert, attended by several renowned Iraqi artists. At the time, he worked closely with “the emir of the ud,” the late Iraqi master Munir Bashir. But Shamma wanted to blaze his own path. Master Munir invented the technique of contemplation with oud, but I wanted my music to carry content, an idea or image that is shocking. He received his diploma from the Baghdad Academy of Music in 1987.
He began to teach ud after three years at the academy, as well as continuing his own studies. Shamma has composed music for films, plays and television, and has written a unique ud method for one hand – this is designed at for children injured during the Gulf War. Between 1993 and 1998 he taught ud the Higher Institute of Music in Tunisia, and in 1999 he took the post of Director of the Arab Center for the Ud in Cairo.
His compositions are culturally unique. He performs on the oud in a manner which combines ancient methods with his own modern compositions.
He has constructed an eight-string ud following the manuscript of the 9th century music theorist al-Farabi. This new design (8 instead of 6 strings) expanded the musical range of the ud and gave it a distinct tonality.
Mohammad Gomar was born in Diala, Iraq. He has a degree in Musicology from the University of Baghdad. Mohammad Gomar founded and leads the Iraqi Maqam Ensemble. The group – despite its forced domicile in Holland- maintains its stature as one of the finest performers of Iraqi classical music. The Iraqi Maqam Ensemble features the great singer Farida Ali.
Mohammad’s work on the coconut spiked fiddle known as joza earned him the Iraqi byline: “Father of the joza.” On the ud his playing reflects many of the same qualities that made his teacher Munir Bashir the greatest player of the fretless lute of his generation.
Iraqi singer Kazem Al-Saher (also spelled Al-Sahir) began composing at the age of 12, reaching into classical forms and themes. Programmers at Iraqi television recognized his extraordinary talent, but insisted that he sing material written for him, which he refused to do. After losing many friends during the Iran-Iraq war, Al-Sahir penned a defiant song called “Ladghat El Hayya, (The Snake Bite).” A friend in the media establishment was so moved that he maneuvered to have it broadcast. While adored by the Iraqi people, the Iraqi censors objected to the song’s lyrics about fear and betrayal, and banned it. Later, while studying at the Music Academy, Al-Sahir’s bold efforts to merge classical music and pop ran him afoul of rigid, conservative professors. By then, his reputation had spread throughout the Gulf region. After his first public concert in 1989, Al-Sahir was on his way to becoming the top-selling Arabic singer in the world.
The Gulf War halted Al-Sahir’s career for two years. He left Iraq and lived in Dubai, Egypt, Paris, and most recently in Canada. He has been both prolific and engaged, singing many benefit concerts, especially on behalf of children who become victims of war and oppression. Today he is universally acclaimed as among the greatest Middle Eastern composers, vocalists, and performers, as well as a fearless and compassionate innovator. Now he dares to respond to the prospect of war with the language of love. “I have memories of politics,” he says, “but almost all of my songs are about love, in the manner of Shakespeare’s `Romeo and Juliet.” Al-Sahir recently completed a duet recording with soprano vocalist Sarah Brightman, entitled “The War is Over”. The song will be released both on Sarah Brightman’s new album, as well as Al-Sahir’s new release slated for the end of 2003.
For his unique American performances in 2003, Al-Sahir was joined by fifteen of the most respected Middle Eastern musicians currently living and working in the United States. The lineup included virtuosos from Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and France, playing an array of traditional string and percussion instruments, in addition to modern pop instrumentation. Just one example, Bassam Saba, is a master of the ney flute and has performed and recorded with Simon Shaheen’s ensemble Qantara, and also with Yo-Yo Ma.
Of special interest to fans of Arabic classical music were the representatives of the esteemed Merhej family of Lebanon. Michel Merhej, a virtuoso of the rik (a traditional Middle Eastern percussion instrument), participated with his talented daughters, Christina and Claudette as the back-up chorus. Some of the other instrumentation included mazhar (frame drums) by Saad Fahmi, Butrus Hanna on tabla, Ramy Antoun on drums, Carlo Fakhoury on guitar, Elias Lamam on traditional accordion, Jamal Sinno on qanun (zither), Roberto Riggio and Hanna Khuri on violins, and Khaled Khalifa on cello to name a few.
Fawzy Al-Aiedy is an Iraqi composer and multi-instrumetalist. He sings, plays ud (lute), oboe, and English horn. Born in Basra (Iraq) towards 1950, Fawzy studied at the Music Institute of Baghdad the oriental traditional music: lute and vocal, and also the occidental music: classic oboe.
In Paris, where he lives since 1971, after having obtained the 1st price of oboe and 2nd Price of chamber music, he turned towards more personal works; he is interested especially in musics which blend different cultures: all those which bring closer people, reflect a creativity, an emotion and make vibrate. He sings poetry mixing with his voice the secular and sacred, oral and written music. His knowledge of the Eastern and Western musics freed him from the rules to carry out his own spiritual and artistic search.
Silence (Chant du monde, 1976)
Bagdad (Club du disque arabe, 1978)
Amina (Arc en Ciel, 1981)
La Terre (Arc en Ciel, 1983)
Scheherazade (Arc en Ciel, 1987)
Paris Bagdad (Barclay, 1990)
Tarab – Fawzy Al-Aiedy & l’Oriental jazz (Musiques en Balade, 1992)
Trobar E Tarab (1995)
Dounya (1998) Le Paris Bagdad (Buda Musique, 1999) Oud Aljazira (Buda Musique, 2000) Noces-Bayna (Buda Musique, 2009) Radio Bagdad (Institut du Monde Arabe, 2012)
The Iraqi Maqam Ensemble is a prominent group founded by Mohammed Gomar in 1989. This ensemble is a continuation of The Iraqi Musical Heritage Group which was initiated in 1973 by the prominent Arabic lute (ud) player Professor Munir Bashir (1930-1997). The ensemble members had graduated at the Institute of Musical Studies and the Academy of Art Baghdad University.
The Iraqi Maqam Ensemble was reestablished in 1989 under the direction of instrumentalist, and composer Mohammad Gomar, to continue its mission to preserve and develop Arab classical music in Iraq.
Born in 1963 in Kerbala, Iraq, Farida Ali is a leading Iraqi concert artist who tours regularly with the Iraqi Maqam Ensemble. Farida studied with Munir Bashir, Hussein Al-Athami and Mohammad Gomar. She graduated from the Institute of Music in Baghdad, mastered nineteen maqams and became the first woman to teach classical Arabic music, maqam, in Iraq.
She has performed at festivals throughout the Arab world, Europe and the United States. Farida has established a reputation throughout the Arab world and Europe for her brilliant performances of the classical Iraqi maqam, highly improvisational music that is traditionally sung by men.
Iraqi composer and ud maestro Rahim AlHaj has released a short film for the musical piece “Running Boy”. The composition appears in his recent album Letters From Iraq. The film was directed by Michael Carroll and features Yousif Mustifa.
“Running Boy”, performed by Rahim together with percussion and string quintet, is based on a letter he received from Baghdad bombing survivor Faid Salem.
Reston, VA – Reston Community Center (with string quintet)
March 9 – 12
Adelaide, Australia – WOMADelaide (trio)
March 16 – 18
New Plymouth, New Zealand – WOMAD NZ (trio)
Rahim AlHaj, virtuoso ud musician and composer, was born in Baghdad, Iraq and began playing the ud at age nine. Early on, it was clear that he had a remarkable talent for playing the ud. Alhaj studied under the renowned Munir Bashir, considered by many to be the greatest ud player ever, and Salim Abdul Kareem, at the Institute of Music in Baghdad, Iraq.
AlHaj won various awards at the Conservatory and graduated in 1990 with a diploma in composition. He holds a degree in Arabic Literature from Mustunsariya University in Baghdad. In 1991, after the first Gulf War, Mr. AlHaj was forced to leave Iraq due to his activism against the Saddam Hussein regime and began his life in Jordan and Syria. He moved to the United States of America in 2000 as a political refugee and has resided in Albuquerque, New Mexico ever since. Rahim became a U.S. citizen on August 15, 2008.
Rahim AlHaj has performed around the world and is considered one of the finest oud players in the world. He has won many honors and awards including two Grammy nominations. Rahim has recorded and performed with other master musicians of varied backgrounds and styles including multi-faceted American guitarist Bill Frisell, modern accordion innovator Guy Klucevsek, Indian sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan and indie-rock pioneers REM.
He has composed pieces for solo ud, string quartet, symphony and beyond. Rahim’s music delicately combines traditional Iraqi maqams with contemporary styling and influence. His compositions evoke the experience of exile from his homeland and of new beginnings in his adopted country. His pieces establish new concepts without altering the foundation of the traditional “Iraqi School of oud”.
His discography includes earlier works such as The Second Baghdad (2002), the live CD Iraqi Music in a Time of War (2003), and Friendship: Oud and Sadaqa String Quartet (2005), a unique East and West musical collaboration; Home Again (UR Music, 2008) features original compositions portraying his trip to Iraq after 13 years in exile. His March 2009 release, Ancient Sounds (UR Music), a duet recording with Amjad Ali Khan, was nominated for a 2010 Grammy in the Best Traditional World Music Recording category.
When the Soul is Settled: Music of Iraq released by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings was also nominated for a Grammy in 2008.
The album Ancient Sounds (2009) featured a collaboration between Rahim AlHaj and acclaimed Indian sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan. It was a set of duets, accompanied by percussion.
In November of 2009 he released a special recording Under The Rose with Ottmar Liebert, Jon Gagan and Barrett Martin, with all net proceeds benefiting Direct Aid Iraq.
Rahim is featured in the 2009 documentary film on Smithsonian Folkways Records. Capping off an artistically fruitful 2009, Rahim was awarded the prestigious U.S. Artist Ford Fellowship Grant on December 14th.
Little Earth: Voices For Peace was released in 2010. The project features Rahim’s original compositions in collaboration with Bill Frisell, Klucevsek, REM, Maria De Barros, Liu Fang, Robert Mirabal, Hossein Omoumi, The Santa Fe Guitar Quartet and many more.
AlHaj began writing ‘Letters From Iraq’ after reading heartbreaking personal letters he received from Iraqi women and children during a 2014 trip to his homeland — his first in a decade and only his second since leaving the country. They told of the American occupation and the factional violence that arose in its aftermath. One story came to AlHaj in person, relayed by a handicapped nephew who had been trapped during a car bombing and firefight. With ‘Letters From Iraq,’ the virtuoso musician creates chamber music using his ud, strings, and percussion to portray a city in crisis but not without hope.
‘Letters From Iraq’ includes AlHaj’s detailed notes revealing the painful stories that inspired each composition. The album was recorded in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where AlHaj has lived since receiving political asylum in 2000. A 40-page booklet with artwork by exiled Iraqi artist Riyadh Neama and notes in both Arabic and English by D.A. Sonneborn, associate director at the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, accompanies the music.
‘Letters from Iraq’ was AlHaj’s 11th album and his second for Smithsonian Folkways.
In 2015, he received the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship.