This Saturday at the Michigan Theater, Simon Shaheen will wrap
his audience in the warmth of his international musical ensemble,
Qantara. The evening’s performance will feature three local
artists in the world premier of Shaheen’s new work
“Arboresque,” a tribute to the diverse musical
community of Ann Arbor.

Laura Wong
Simon Shaheen masterfully plays the oud. (Courtesy of UMS)

For the past six years, Shaheen has redefined his musical career
with his unique ensemble. Arabic for “arch,” Qantara
bridges the diverse musical worlds of Latin America, West Africa,
India, Western classical music and traditional Arabic music.
Qantara is composed of world-renowned musicians of the saxophone,
flute, upright base and classical and jazz guitar as well as three
percussionists, who create what Shaheen describes as “a
fusion between Arabic modes and rhythms and Latin American and
African musical ideas.”

Qantara’s Arabic instruments include the nay, a bamboo
flute and a short, earthy-sounding clarinet, the mizmar. Audiences
will also hear the qanun — a flat, harp-like instrument
played on the lap — and a mijwiz — a double-pipe,
single-reed instrument that seems to hypnotize audiences with its
rolling tones. Qantara’s combination of rich musical heritage
creates new appreciation for the distinct sounds of each instrument
as well as their collective harmony.

At the center of Qantara lies the deep sound of the oud, a
string-plucked instrument from late fourth-century Arabia. A half
pear-shape with a wooden top, five double strings and a single bow,
this traditional Arabic instrument is the predecessor to the
European lute and guitar.

A fundamental instrument in the Arab world, the oud has been a
central part of Simon Shahen’s life. Born in Tarshiha,
Galilee, Shaheen’s musical talents were influenced by his
father, a professor of music and master oud player. At age five,
Shaheen began playing as well, and a year later took up the violin
at the Conservatory for Western Classical Music in Jerusalem.
During graduate work at the Manhattan School of Music and Columbia
University, Shaheen broadened his musical background and became
interested in building diverse communities through music
education.

In December, Shaheen conducted lectures, workshops and master
classes at the Dearborn Arabic Music Retreat. There, he became
reacquainted with three local musicians who will join Qantara this
Saturday. Nadim Dlaikan, Abdel Karim Bader and Johny Sarweh will
share their individual talents during Shaheen’s new
composition “Arboresque.” The piece has four distinct
sections, each with an improvisation break that will showcase the
unique musical styles of each musician. “Improvisation allows
each artist to express one’s musical personality while
reflecting the overall language of the piece,” Shaheen
notes.

Shaheen’s desire to bridge communities and create a common
musical language is evident during all of his performances. He
actively involves the audience, providing hints about how to
understand each piece, what inspired its creation and what sounds
to listen for. The audience will be drawn to the music and the
stage because to Shaheen, “Synergy between the stage and the
audience is a beautiful thing!”

The performance will be followed by a community reception at
Café Oz at 210 S. Fifth Ave.

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