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Shaheen dazzles his listeners as he deftly leaps from
traditional Arabic sounds to jazz and Western classical styles.
His soaring technique, melodic ingenuity, and unparalleled grace
have earned him international acclaim as a virtuoso on the 'oud
is one of the most significant Arab musicians, performers, and
composers of his generation. His work incorporates and reflects a
legacy of Arabic music, while it forges ahead to new frontiers,
embracing many different styles in the process. This unique
contribution to the world of arts was recognized in 1994 when
Shaheen was honored with the prestigious National Heritage Award
at the White House.
the 1990s he released four albums of his own: Saltanah
(Water Lily Acoustics), Turath (CMP),
Taqasim (Lyrichord), and Simon
Shaheen: The Music of Mohamed Abdel Wahab (Axiom),
while also contributing cuts to producer Bill Laswell's fusion
collective, Hallucination Engine (Island).
He has contributed selections to soundtracks for The
Sheltering Sky and Malcolm X , among others, and has
composed the entire soundtrack for the United Nations-sponsored
documentary, For Everyone Everywhere. Broadcast globally
in December 1998, this film celebrated the 50 th anniversary of
the United Nations Human Rights Charter.
perhaps his greatest success has come with Blue Flame (ARK21,
2001), where he leads his group, Qantara, on a labyrinthian
journey through the world of fusion music to discover the heart of
the Middle East. The album has been nominated for eleven Grammy
Awards, and the band's performances have been called "glorious."
Palestinian, born in the village of Tarshiha in the Galilee,
Shaheen's childhood was steeped in music. His father, Hikmat
Shaheen, was a professor of music and a master 'oud player.
"Learning to play on the 'oud from my father was the
most powerful influence in my musical life," Shaheen recalls.
He began playing on the 'oud at the age of five, and a year later
studying violin at the Conservatory for Western Classical Music in
Jerusalem. "When I held and played these instruments, they
felt like an extension of my arms."
graduating from the Academy of Music in Jerusalem in 1978, Shaheen
was appointed its instructor of Arab music, performance, and
theory. Two years later he moved to New York City to complete his
graduate studies in performance at the Manhattan School of Music,
and later in performance and music education at Columbia
1982, Shaheen formed the Near Eastern Music Ensemble in
New York, establishing a group that would perform the highest
standard of traditional Arab music. This time also marked the
beginning of Shaheen's workshops and lecture/demonstrations in
schools, colleges, and universities to educate the younger
generation. As a champion and guardian of Arab music, Shaheen
still devotes almost fifty percent of his time to working with
schools and universities, including Julliard, Columbia, Princeton,
Brown, Harvard, Yale, University of California in San Diego,
University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and many others.
concert credits are a veritable compendium of the world's greatest
venues: Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Cairo's Opera House,
Theatre de la Ville in Beirut, and Belgium's Le Palais des Arts.
In May of 2004, Shaheen appeared at Quincy Jones' "We Are The
Future," fundraising concert in Rome in front of a half
million strong crowd.
a composer, Shaheen has received grants from the National
Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts,
Meet the Composer, the Jerome Foundation, Continental Harmony, and
Yellow Springs Institute. In addition to his recorded work, his
theatrical repertoire includes Majnun Layla, (performances
included the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and The Museum of
Natural History in New York), The Book and the Stranger (from
Kalilah Wa-Dimanah), Possible City, and Collateral Damage
with actress Vanessa Redgrave. He has also written the music for
the documentary of the British Museum's Egyptian collection, which
has toured U.S. museums.
1994, Shaheen has produced the Annual Arab Festival of Arts,
called "Mahrajan al-Fan." Held in New York, the festival
showcases the work of the finest Arab artists, while presenting
the scope, depth and quality of Arab culture. To continue this
exposure to Arab music and culture, Shaheen founded the Annual
Arabic Music Retreat in 1997. Held each summer at Mount Holyoke
College, this weeklong intensive program of Arabic music studies
draws participants from the U.S. and abroad.
the past six years, though, Shaheen has focused much of his
energies on Qantara . The band, whose name means
arch in Arabic, brings to life Shaheen's vision for the unbridled
fusion of Arab, jazz, Western classical, and Latin American music,
a perfect alchemy for music to transcend the boundaries of genre
want to create a world music exceptionally satisfying to the ear
and for the soul," says Shaheen, "This is why I selected
members for Qantara who are all virtuosos in their own musical
forms, and whose expertise and knowledge can raise the music and
the group's performance to spectacular levels."
made their first live recording debut on Mondo Melodia/ARK21's
"Historic Live Recording of the Two Tenors &
Qantara ," featuring tenors Wadi al-Safi and
Sabah Fahkri. The disc featured two instrumental cuts by Shaheen
and Qantara, which, only begins to show the band's range and
and Qantara made their full recording debut with Blue
Flame, . Compositions of "Al-Qantara" and
"Dance Mediterranea" sparkle like jewels, while the
opening track, Blue Flame, is a bravura exhibition of
Shaheen's -- and the band's -- virtuosity. The Los Angeles
Times proclaimed the record "stunning," National
Public Radio called it "a staggering tour-de-force of
technique and passion," CMJ called it "a new
benchmark in Arab-Western fusion," and the Washington
Post termed it "eminently cosmopolitan."
band has toured during 2003 and 2004, playing concerts and
festivals like WOMAD USA, WOMAD Sicily, the prestigious Newport
Jazz Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival. Traveling throughout Europe
and the Middle East, Qantara's appearances have included:
Beiteddine Festival in Lebanon; Les Mediterranean in France; New
York's Central Park Summer Stage; Stern Grove International
Festival in San Francisco; Chicago World Music Festival; Royce
Hall in Los Angeles; University Musical Society in Ann Arbor;
Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis; International Souk Ukaz at the
historic citadel in Amman, Jordan; and Yabous Festival in the
historical Tombs of Kings in East Jerusalem amongst others . In
Palestine, Shaheen conducts an annual weeklong music workshop
designed for gifted children.
addition to performing with his two bands, Qantara and the Near
Eastern Music Ensemble, Shaheen tours as a solo artist
internationally and as a lecturer throughout the academic world
promoting awareness to Arab music through numerous lecture and
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