Simon Shaheen’s Musical Gems of Arab Cinema in Smithsonian

Presentation of Classic film music from the golden age of Arab cinema, the 1930s to the 1960s. Top composer-performers from Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria created music for the most popular films and theater in the Arab world. Simon Shaheen performs on the ‘ud (Arab lute) and violin, joined by the Syrian vocalist Nadia Raies and an ensemble with ney (Arab flute), qanun (Arab zither), cello, and percussion.

Simon-Shaheen, TeRra Magazine

Simon Shaheen (1955) is a Palestinian-American oud and violin virtuoso and composer who holds Israeli citizenship.

At the age of 2, Shaheen moved with his family to Haifa, Israel, but spent most of the weekends in Tarshiha, an Arab village in northern Israel. The Shaheen family is known for its musicality with music instructor and father Hikmat, oud-playing and instrument-making brother Najib, violinist and oud playing William, and singing sisters Laura and Rosette.

He began playing the oud at 5, and the violin shortly thereafter. He attended Tel Aviv University, earning degrees in Arabic literature and music performance. He later pursued further studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1980 he emigrated to the United States to study music at the Manhattan School of Music and Columbia University, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen.

He founded the Near Eastern Music Ensemble and organizes arts festivals and retreats. Shaheen also heads the Arabic Music Retreat, held annually at Mt. Holyoke College’s campus in Massachusetts which brings together a large faculty instructing Arabic music for a week and concludes with a concert.

Shaheen, a Catholic Arab, lives in New York City, where he leads an Arabic ensemble called Qantara which he formed.

In 1994 he received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

In addition to his work in traditional and classical Arabic music, Shaheen has participated in many cross-cultural musical projects, including performing with producer Bill Laswell, Colombian singer Soraya, Henry Threadgill, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, and with Jewish klezmer musicians The Klezmatics.

Shaheen has long been a major force in Arab music as composer, performer, and educator. He is a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow, America’s highest honor in the traditional arts.

Co-sponsor: Made possible with generous funding by Aramco.

Event Location: Freer Gallery of Art, Meyer Auditorium
Cost: Tickets $6 in advance; free at the door

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