Tag Archives: Issa Boulos

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


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


Five Accomplished Vocalists Present Diverse Repertoire In Love Songs Of The World

Issa Boulos

Chicago, Illinois, USA – Five acclaimed vocalists sing the international language of love as part of Love Songs of the World on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2005 at 6 p.m. in Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington Street. Featured artists in this stellar line-up are Baimei, Issa Boulos, Paulinho Garcia, Michaela Marchi and Joe Reilly, and Bobbi Wilsyn. Their diverse repertoire of contemporary and traditionally inspired music includes Brazilian bossa nova, Arab maqam, Chinese pop, American Indian blues and African American jazz.

Beimei is an internationally acclaimed vocalist and songwriter from China. In Chicago, Baimei has hosted a TV music show and anchored the news for Chinese Television. She recorded original songs for the Museum of Contemporary Art audio presentation “Divided We Stand” and has performed locally at the Park West. A graduate of China’s National Institute of Traditional Performing Arts in Beijing and DePaul University, she has extensive training in both vocal music and opera.

Issa Boulos is a Palestinian ‘ud player, singer, composer and teacher who is trained in singing Arab classical maqam repertoire. His recent work is a blend of tradition and innovation that incorporates Western musical practices with Palestinian sensibility. Boulos has composed hundreds of instrumental and vocal pieces and performs regularly. He is currently a lecturer at the University of Chicago and director of its Middle East Ensemble.

Paulinho Garcia was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and began his musical career at the age of nine as a singer. Since his 1979 arrival in the U.S., Garcia has performed and recorded two albums with the band Made in Brazil, and currently performs with his own band Jazzmineiro, and with saxophonist Greg Fishman (Two for Brazil) and singer Grazyna Auguscik. He is the recipient of the 2001 “Best Jazz Entertainer Award” by the Chicago Music Awards.

Michaela Marchi began her formal artistic training at the age of 14 at the Chicago Academy for the Arts focusing on voice performance, piano and composition. In college, she specialized in  ethnomusicology, language systems and education. Marchi is of Italian, Filipina and Isleta Pueblo heritage and performs regularly as a vocalist in various genres including opera, jazz, R&B, musical theater, blues, alternative folk and world fusion.

Joe Reilly has been performing and collaborating on creative projects for the past year with Michaela Marchi. Reilly is of Italian, Cherokee and Irish American heritage and has been playing guitar since age 14. His repertoire as a singer/songwriter includes blues, folk, rock and traditional Native American singing with the drum group Treetown.

Bobbi Wilsyn is a veteran Chicago vocalist known for her glamour and ultra polished vocal style. Her versatility as a singer and entertainer comes from nearly 25 years performing for all occasions in various Chicago clubs, churches and concert halls. After touring with Milt Trenier in the ’70s, she settled in Chicago where she currently is an artist-in-residence on the music faculty of Columbia College and regularly performs with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble. She also performs with her all-female jazz combo She and the contemporary jazz group, Bobbi Wilsyn & Co. She will be accompanied by Miguel de la Cerna on piano and Jim Cox on bass.

Love Songs of the World is part of the MVP Series: Multicultural Voices and Perspectives presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, the American Indian Center; Arts Council, Arab American Action Network; Center for Asian Arts and Media, Columbia College; Center for Cultural Understanding and Change, Field Museum; Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, and the Gamaliel Foundation. The MVP Series primary purpose is to present multicultural arts programs to foster better cross-cultural understanding and exchange.