Simon Shaheen is a Palestinian composer and musician who has done more for bringing Arab music to the West than perhaps any other individual in recent memory. Shaheen's new composition, "The Call: Songs Songs Of Arab Pride, Dignity, And Liberation" will make its New York debut as a part of the Live@365 series at the CUNY Graduate Center tomorrow night, so get ready to celebrate the Arab Spring in style with one of the world's finest musicians. To find out more about Shaheen and his work, we interviewed the prolific musician via e-mail. His answers are below.
HP: How will your upcoming performance reflect on the Arab Spring, and how are you preparing yourself for this event at Elebash Hall?
SS: The Arab Spring is a collective move by the people to change the status quo of authoritarian regimes that have been suffocating the spirit of the individual in several countries in the Arab World. This revolt by the people is about restoring self dignity, freedom of expression and the right to live in peace and safety. Having established that, the performance will reflect on a vocal and instrumental music repertoire that was developed in the 1950s, specially in Egypt and Lebanon. This repertoire included many songs that addressed the same humane themes: pride, dignity and freedom. The program will also include a new composition, "THE CALL", [which] I recently composed in celebration of the Arab Spring. This piece has been choreographed by dancer Elena Lantini who will interpret it in a live performance on Tuesday.
HP: Can you tell us more about the composition and how dancing is an integral part to the arrangement?
SS: After a performance at the Metropolitan Museum a few years ago, I was walking through a section filled with statues. One unique figure, a black bronze Statue of a woman/dancer in a veil all the way to the floor caught my attention and for a moment I thought that playing the violin could bring this statue back to life. Last year, as I was going through my music sketches, I found a music sheet with some musical ideas and notes about the statue. This coincided with the revolts in the Arab world that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and other countries. For a moment I thought that the statue could be a symbol of stagnated Arab world that decided to revolt and recapture life with all its vivid qualities, including freedom, expression and dignity. This was the compositional premise upon which I wrote "THE CALL". The statue starts to slowly move at the sound of the violin and piano making its way to a dance that celebrates life, liberty and joy.
HP: When did you get started playing the 'oud and how has it shaped your view of music?
SS: I started to play on the 'oud at age four. My father, Hikmat Shaheen, was an accomplished 'oud player, composer and music educator. He introduced me to the 'oud and a year later I picked up the violin. The 'oud has been a big part of my musical life. It is the center instrument that defines Arab traditional music, which I have introduced to the American general public.
Hear some of Shaheen's work in the videos below:
Simon Shaheen will perform at CUNY's Graduate Center on April 10, 2012. Find out more details here.