Musical Gems of Arab Cinema

Enjoy classic film music from the golden age of Arab cinema, the 1930s to the 1960s. Simon Shaheenperforms on the ‘ud (Arab lute) and violin with Syrian vocalist Nadia Raies, ney (flute) master Bassam Saba, and an ensemble of qanun (Arab zither), violins, cello, and percussion. Recorded live in concert at the Freer|Sackler on June 21, 2018.


Musical Gems of Arab Cinema: Simon Shaheen Ensemble

Simon Shaheen, ‘ud and violin
Bassam Saba, ney (flute)
Nadia Raies, voice
Firas Zreik, qanun
Layth Sidiq, violin
Bengisu Gokce, violin
Juliano Vendemiatti, violin
Kyla Manja, violin
Naseem Alatrash, cello
Alber Baseel, riqq (percussion)

Samai Jiharkah (2018)
Simon Shaheen (b. 1955)

Zeina (1950s)
Muhammad ‘Abd al-Wahhab (1902–1991)

Iyyak Min Hubbi
Farid al-Atrash (1917–1974)
Film: Ma Lish Gheirak(I Have No One but You, 1958)
Nadia Raies, voice

Ya Msafer Wahdak
Muhammad ‘Abd al-Wahhab
Film: Mamnu’ Al Hubb(Love is Forbidden, 1942)
Nadia Raies, voice

Metrictaqsim (improvisation on a maqam, or melodic mode)
Simon Shaheen, ‘ud
Alber Baseel, riqq

Farid al-Atrash
Film: Afrita Hanim(Lady Genie, 1947)

In Rah Minnik Ya Ein (Shadia)
Mounir Mourad (1922–1981)
Film: Irham Hubbi (Have Mercy for My Love, 1959)
Nadia Raies, voice

Arboresque (2005)
Simon Shaheen

This concert was recorded in the Freer|Sackler’s Meyer Auditorium on June 21, 2018, and made possible through generous support from Aramco.


Simon Shaheen, ‘ud (Arab lute) and violin, is a major force in promoting Arab music as a composer, performer, and educator. Born into a Palestinian family, Shaheen began to play the ‘ud at the age of five with his father, Hikmat Shaheen, a famous teacher of Arab music and a master ‘ud player. After graduating from the Academy of Music in Jerusalem, he moved to New York in 1980 to complete his graduate studies at the Manhattan School of Music and later at Columbia University. Shaheen went on to form two groups: the Near Eastern Music Ensemble, which performs traditional Arab music, and Qantara, which blends Arab music with jazz and Western classical music. He also tours as a solo artist internationally and promotes awareness of Arab music through his lectures. Shaheen’s concert credits include Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Cairo’s Opera House, Theatre de la Ville in Beirut, and Le Palais des Arts in Belgium. He has written numerous works for chamber ensembles, including Zafir (for the Imani Winds) and The Call, and scores for theater and films, among them The Sheltering Skyand Malcolm X. In addition, he has released seven recordings, including the Grammy-nominated Blue Flame. In 1994 Shaheen received a National Heritage Fellowship, and three years later he founded the annual Arabic Music Retreat at Mount Holyoke College. He currently teaches at Berklee College of Music in Boston. 

Bassam Saba, ney and flute, began to study music at the age of seven, first with his father and later at the Lebanese National Conservatory of Music in Beirut. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music at the Conservatoire Municipals des Gobelins in Paris and his master’s at the Moscow Conservatory. His collaborators have included such stars of the Arab music world as Lebanese legend Fairuz, Algerian singer-songwriters Khaled and Kathen, Al-Saher of Iraq, and Marcel Khalife. In Western music, Saba has worked with Quincy Jones, Alicia Keys, and Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble. Since moving to New York, he has established the New York Arabic Orchestra and directs the Middle Eastern ensembles at Harvard University and New York University. In 2018 he was named director of the Lebanese National Higher Conservatory of Music. 

Nadia Raies, voice, is a singer and songwriter from Homs, Syria, who attends Berklee College of Music. She sings in English, Arabic, and French, and her style is a fusion of Middle Eastern Arabic music, pop, jazz, and Latin.

Firas Zreik, qanun (zither), is a Palestinian performer and composer who was born in Haifa in 1995. He began to take lessons on the qanunat Beit Al-Musiqa Conservatory at the age of eleven. He studies at the Berklee College of Music as a double major in jazz composition and performance. In addition to performing with Roger Waters, Shreya Goshal, and Aynur Dogan, Zreik has been a performer and composer with his mother, the renowned singer Amal Murkus.

Layth Sidiq, violin, is a Boston-based Iraqi-Jordanian performer and composer who has toured the world and is featured on Latin Grammy-nominated albums. He is the director of the Arab Music Ensemble at Tufts University and the leader of the Layth Sidiq Quartet.

Naseem Alatrash, cello, is a classically trained musician who improvises in a variety of styles and traditions. He graduated from the Berklee College of Music with highest honors on a full Presidential Scholarship. His undergraduate and master’s studies focused on cello performance with a global jazz concentration at Berklee’s elite Global Jazz Institute.

Bengisu Gokce, violin, was born in Istanbul and studied violin performance at Mersin University State Conservatory and Hochschule für Musik “Hanns Eisler” in Berlin. During her studies, she received awards at national violin competitions and at the Berklee College of Music. She has studied at Berklee with Simon Shaheen since 2015.

Juliano Vendemiatti, violin, is a musician and performance artist with experience in symphony orchestras, theater, and dance. He emphasizes accessibility and democratization through his integrative artistic projects.


This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording by Andy Finch and audio editing by SuMo Productions. Web design by Ryan King, with additional web production by Torie Castiello Ketcham. Copy editing by Nancy Eickel. Photography by Colleen Dugan. This concert was made possible, in part, through generous support from Aramco. Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share their performance at the Freer|Sackler.

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