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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 12, 2008

Simon Shaheen and Qantara expand the horizon of Arabic music

Palestinian violinist and oud player Simon Shaheen will perform with his band, Qantara, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 29, in the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium.

Middle-eastern fare will be served in a pre-performance dinner at 5:30 p.m. in the Hancher Café. Advance reservations are required.

The UI residency of Shaheen and Qantara will include a free mini-performance at noon Wednesday, Feb. 27, in the John Colloton Pavilion Atrium of the UI Hospitals and clinics, and a free community event at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, in the Old Brick Community Center, co-sponsored by the UI Arab Student Association.

Shaheen is an essential keeper of the flame of Arabic music, and with Qantara ("Arch" in Arabic) he also fuses jazz, Western classical and Latin American music with the sounds of the Arab world.

Shaheen's unique contribution to the world of arts was recognized in 1994 when he was honored with the National Heritage Award at the White House.

In the 1990s he released four albums of his own while also contributing cuts to producer Bill Laswell's fusion collective, Hallucination Engine. He has contributed selections to soundtracks for movies including "The Sheltering Sky" and "Malcolm X," and he composed the entire soundtrack for the United Nations-sponsored documentary "For Everyone Everywhere," which was broadcast globally in December 1998 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Charter.

On the 2001 release "Blue Flame" he led Qantara on a labyrinthine journey through the world of fusion music to discover the heart of the Middle East. The album was been nominated for 11 Grammy Awards, and the band's performances have been called "glorious."

Shaheen's childhood in Galilee 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.

After 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 University.

In 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 half of his time to working with schools and universities. In Palestine, Shaheen conducts an annual weeklong music workshop designed for gifted children.

As 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.

Since 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 around the world.

For the past six years, though, Shaheen has focused much of his energies on Qantara, to realize his vision for the unbridled fusion of Arab, jazz, Western classical and Latin American music, to create music that transcends the boundaries of genre and geography.

"I 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."

A National Public Radio review called "Blue Fame" "a staggering tour-de-force of technique and passion," and the Washington Post critic termed it "eminently cosmopolitan."

The band's tours have included the Newport Jazz Festival; the Montreal Jazz Festival; the Beiteddine Festival in Lebanon; Les Mediterranean in France; New York's Central Park Summer Stage; the Chicago World Music Festival; Royce Hall in Los Angeles; the International Souk Ukaz at the historic citadel in Amman, Jordan; and the Yabous Festival in the historical Tombs of Kings in East Jerusalem.

The Feb. 29 concert is supported by Hancher Alumni (former student employees) and the Hancher Guild through the University of Iowa Foundation.

Tickets are $31.50/28.80/26.10; youth $24.50/22.40/20.30. Dinner is $28.

The Hancher Auditorium box office will re-open on Jan. 22. Business hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Even while the box office is closed, tickets may be ordered online at

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail at

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.


STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: SRO Artists, 608-664-8160,; Winston Barclay, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0073 (office), 319-430-1013 (cell),