Dazzling Arab musicians mix traditional and world fusion as part of "The Arab-American Experience" at Fairfield University


Eclectic Arab musician Simon Shaheen and members of his internationally known Qantara bring their blend of traditional melodies and modern world fusion to Fairfield University on Thursday, Oct. 16, at 7:30 p.m. The performance, which will be held in the Oak Room of the Barone Campus Center, is part of the on-going campus series "The Arab-American Experience."

Shaheen is one of the most significant Arabic musicians performing and composing today. His work incorporates the historical tunes and rhythms of Arab music and continues to move it forward, embracing many other world music elements along the way. For the past six years, he has focused his considerable energies on Qantara, a band that embodies his vision of the unbridled fusion of Arabic, jazz, Western classical and Latin music.

In 1994 the National Endowment for the Arts honored the New York City resident with a prestigious National Heritage Award for his contributions to music.

"I want to create world music exceptionally satisfying to the ear and the soul, which is why I selected members for Qantara who are all virtuosos in their own musical form, whose experience can raise the music and performance of the group to the spectacular," he has said of his unique sound.

Born in Tarshiha, Galilee, Shaheen grew up surrounded by music. His father, Hikmat Shaheen, was a professor of music and master of the oud, the Arab lute. His son began studying the oud at the age of five and later studied violin at the Conservatory for Western Classical Music.

He graduated from the Academy of Music in Jerusalem and taught Arabic music, performance and theory there. He later moved to New York City and completed his graduate studies at Manhattan School of Music and Columbia University.

In the early 1980s, Shaheen formed the New Eastern Music Ensemble and began lecturing and offering workshops everywhere from elementary schools to universities. He still devotes 50 percent of his time to teaching, having worked with many U.S. institutions, including The Juilliard School and Princeton, Brown, Yale and Harvard universities.

In the 1990s, Shaheen released four albums, including "Saltanah," "Turath" and "Taqasim." He contributed to the soundtracks for the feature films "Malcolm X" and "The Sheltering Sky" and wrote the entire soundtrack for the documentary, "For Everyone Everywhere."

Shaheen's concert credits include Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Cairo's Opera House and Belgium's Le Palais des Arts. In 2000, Shaheen appeared at the Grammy Awards with Sting, arranging the violin section for his longtime friend's live performance of "Desert Rose." Shaheen's playlist often features "Tea in the Sahara," a Sting-penned song inspired by Paul Bowles' novel "The Sheltering Sky."

Admission to Shaheen's Fairfield University concert is free and open to the public. The event is sponsored by the University's Humanities Institute, and the Women's Studies, American Studies, English and History departments. For more information, call Ralph Coury, Ph.D., professor of English, at (203) 254-4000, ext. 2110.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on September 17, 2003

Vol. 36, No. 62