May 26, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 21
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Tuesday, Nov 24, 2020



Middle Eastern musical virtuoso Simon Shaheen and his Near Eastern Ensemble play in Seattle; Shaheen to return in a solo concert as part of the 2006 Northwest Folklife Festival's tribute to the cultural life of Pacific Northwest Arab Communities; and Abdullah Chhadeh and his group Nara play at Meany Hall

by E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN A&E Writer

Lately, there have been and continue to be a number of great traditional Middle Eastern musicians coming to Seattle to perform. It has been wonderful, for these are some of the best in the world and have educated our local audiences with their refined talents and virtuosic playing of instruments and music that may be new to some Seattleites.


Simon Shaheen and his Near Eastern Ensemble appeared at Town Hall on March 25th, performing a combination of traditional Middle Eastern vocal and instrumental music, original music by Shaheen and accompanying clips of old Egyptian films, (compiled by John Sinno, producer of the Arab-Iranian Film Festival), with compositions by famous Egyptian film composers. In the 40's and 50's, Egypt was known as a great rival to the Hollywood movie industry and its films had the popularity in that time period of what "Bollywood" films of India have today.

For those in the know, composers featured included: Mohammad Abdel Wahhab, Wadi' Al-Safi, Farid Al-Atrash, Sayyed Darwish and Riyad Al Simbati.

Shaheen's ensemble is comprised of: Naji Youssef, a profoundly spiritual and expressive vocalist, whose powerful emotional commitment and virtuosity lifted the audience into a rapturous space; Bassam Saba, on Nay (Middle Eastern reed flute) and Western Transverse flute, who's playing was rich, smooth, magical and entrancing; Jamal Sinno, on Qanun, (a Middle Eastern Zither- like stringed instrument plucked by one's fingers and held horizontally on the lap), who played with great mastery, energy and dexterity, Michel Merhej, on Arabic percussion, who provided a very grounded and adept rhythmical foundation; William Shaheen, (Simon's brother), who, like his brother, is a very fine and meticulous 'Oud, (Middle Eastern Lute) and Violin player; and of course, Simon Shaheen, a virtuoso, incomparable 'Oud and Violin player, fine composer, explorer of musical styles, music scholar, lecturer and teacher.

Their performance was magnificent and it is a great honor to have heard them play together. For those of you who missed this event, you will have a second chance to hear Simon Shaheen in a solo concert when he returns to Seattle to perform on May 28th as part of the Northwest Folklife's tribute to Arab culture. On the same bill will be; Lebanese singer and guitarist, May Nasr and Lebanese master Nay player, Nadeem Dlaikan.

Simon Shaheen, a Palestinian, was born in 1955 in Tarshiha, Galilee. His father, Hikmat Shaheen, was a master 'Oud player and professor of music and Simon started playing the 'Oud at age five and began Violin a year later at the Conservatory for Western Classical Music in Jerusalem. After completing his studies at the Academy of Music in Jerusalem in 1978, he instructed there for two years and then moved to New York to complete graduate studies at the Manhattan School of Music and Columbia University. He formed the "Near Eastern Ensemble" in 1982 in New York, to perform the highest standard of traditional Arab music. He also now has a group called "Qantara", which means "arch" in Arabic. This terrific ensemble, (who Seattleites will remember from WOMAD U.S.A.), creates a world music fusion of Arab, jazz, Western classical and Latin American music. I highly recommend their beautifully melodic original album, "Blue Flame", which was nominated for eleven Grammy Awards. Shaheen has the distinction of being honored with the prestigious National Heritage Award at the White House in 1994, has contributed to major movie soundtracks and has played around the world with some of the greatest musicians spanning the musical genres.

Visit his website: This concert was co-sponsored by Town Hall and the Arab Center of Washington. Visit: to find out about Simon Shaheen's concert and all of the other wonderful events happening at the 2006 Northwest Folklife Festival being held this year from May 26th through May 29th, 11:00 AM - 11:00 PM at the Seattle Center.


Virtuosic, innovative and fantastically creative, Abdullah Chhadeh and his ensemble, Nara, enchanted the audience with fluid, lovely, lively and peaceful Arab melodies at Meany Hall, on the University of Washington campus, on April 29th, as part of Meany's "World Series" subscription season. Chhadeh plays the Qanun (the zither-like instrument mentioned above) with great skill, dexterity, sensitivity and flair and has taken this tenth century Arab instrument into another realm, re-designing it by adding another octave of strings, enhancing its tonal range and enabling him to challenge the Qanun's traditional repertoire. His quartet of Bernard O'Neill (Ireland), acoustic jazz Bass; Dafer Tawil (Syria), Arabic percussion; Naeif Rafeh (Syria), Nay flute (also mentioned above) and Qanun, has a distinctive, contemporary sound, due to Chhadeh's original and imaginative style of playing. He plays percussively and utilizes the strings completely to create a lush sound. With the acoustic upright Bass as influence, the music moves in and out of the Western jazz realm while maintaining its sense of Eastern tradition. It was a most enjoyable and unique experience.

Abdullah Chhadeh, with black hair flowing to his waist, is soft-spoken, articulate and charming and interspersed the performance of songs from his originally composed album,"Seven Gates",with descriptions of Arabic culture and the desire to have his American audience understand that the Arab people are peace-loving and value a peaceful way of life, religiously and deeply. The music was beautiful and thoughtful and I felt as though I were drifting on a cloud. The seven gates refer to the seven stone gates, or "Bab" of ancient Damascus. Moods of the city, from wild to reflective are portrayed in the music.

Chhadeh almost didn't make it into the United States to perform. Although he has lived in the United Kingdom, since moving there in 1999, from his home in Damascus, Syria, when the British realized he was born in Syria, they wanted to refuse him a visa to the U.S. However, things worked out at the last minute fortunately and I truly hope that he and his group will return to Seattle again soon.

Born and educated in Damascus, Chhadeh studied both Classical Arabic and Western music at the Conservatoire of Damascus. His work has included adaptations from the Syrian, Turkish,Azerbaijani, and Andalusian traditions as well as interpretations of music by Western classical composers. He studied music composition on a scholarship at the Guildhall School of Music in London. He has performed with Sinead O'Conner and Natacha Atlas. In 2001, he formed Nara, an ensemble combining the Qanun with a variety of traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern instruments; an ever-evolving musical project based entirely on Chhadeh's original compositions.

To learn more about Abdullah Chhadeh, visit:

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