Since arriving in New York City in 1980, Palestinian composer and musician Simon Shaheen has been instrumental in the development of Arabic music across North America.
A master of the Arabic lute known as the oud, the 58-year-old Catholic born in Tarshiha, Upper Galilee, Israel, grew up in a musical dynasty with father and siblings all actively teaching and performing.
He is a professor at Columbia University music school and his students are everywhere bringing Arabic music into jazz, rock, pop and traditional music.
His latest show is presented in partnership with the MOA exhibit Safar/Voyage: Contemporary Works by Arab, Iranian and Turkish Artists.
Titled The Call: Songs of Liberation, it takes folk songs from the turbulent 1950s and 1960s era that have been revived as anthems of movements in the Arab Spring and mixes them in with his own adventurous traditional/jazz compositions.
“Beginning about two-and-a-half years ago, when people began to take the initiative to live with pride, dignity and freedom in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere, there was a revival of this amazing music from the ’50s and ’60s post-colonial era that sounded like it was written yesterday,” Shaheen said.
“It was almost as if the era had been forgotten in the face of modern pop, but then it came back and I took it upon myself to research songs that came from these places and tour with it.”
Shaheen and his group took the show on the road in 2011 to great response. He was inspired to compose an accompanying piece titled The Call following a show at the Metropolitan Museum, where a statue was unveiled.
“This statue just became a metaphor for the Arab world at the time, somewhat stagnant and unmoving. But, I thought, if I played enough music, that it would start to dance and come to life like so many of these places were. So I composed a piece and then took it to dancer Cassandra Shore to choreograph.”
The local performance includes bass, flute, percussion, violin and oud with solo dance. It is unlike anything the composer has done before and he hopes to record the results later this year. He said that it feels right to move from tradition into something contemporary and reflective of changing times in the Middle East.
Read more from this article here including added details regarding his upcoming show. Get a taste of his music in this video below.