Friday, September 28, 2007
Simon Shaheen's Musical Magic
Several nights ago I attended a Simon Shaheen concert, part of a local World Music concert series organized by my University's school of music. I first heard him play to a small audience at this same venue some fifteen years ago. It was at a time when his star was just starting to rise. He impressed me then with his virtuosity and his skill as he effortlessly switched from playing oud to violin . The next time I saw him was at a Beiteddine Festival in Lebanon about three years ago. He was part of an odd three act show that also included the Egyptian shaabi music star Hakim, interesting for about one song, and the incomparable Khaled, the king of Rai. I loved Khaled's powerful voice but Shaheen's beautifully crafted instrumentals evoked deep emotions in me, simultaneously joyous and melancholic.
Simon Shaheen is a Palestinian, born in the village of Tarshiha in Galilee. He learned oud at the tender age of five at the hands of his father, himself an accomplished musician. He left to the United States in 1980 for graduate studies in music and has stayed on since then. When he became an American passport he was allowed to travel and perform in Arab countries. He now runs a yearly musical retreat for talented Palestinian children on the West Bank.
Shaheen had established himself as a master of classical Arabic music by the 1990s. It was his 2002 CD, Blue Flame, however, that really exhibits his true genius. In it, he manages to blend several musical styles to produce lush, joyful and totally original instrumentals. Musical fusion doesn't always work well as it often feels contrived and artificial. There is nothing artificial about Shaheen's compositions. He blends different musical styles seamlessly. Yet despite the strong Jazz and Caribbean elements in his compositions, they never loose their essentially Middle Eastern sound and feel. Nothing warms my heart more that Blue Flame blasting on my car stereo as it conjures up Mediterranean sunshine and deep blue skies on the coldest and greyest days.
During this last concernt, along with some favorites from his last CD, Shaheen and his Qantara band played some new unrecorded compositions. One was titled "Iraq" that he dedicated to the people of Iraq and the other titled "The Wall" in reference to Israel's apartheid wall. Both were sad and moving compositions.
Simon Shaheen makes me proud and his music makes me happy. Here are few samples from his last CD.