Naseer Shamma’s Al-Oyoun Ensemble

Hear evocative solos and refreshing new arrangements of Arab music performed by Naseer Shamma and his Cairo-based ensemble. One of the Middle East’s leading ‘ud (lute) virtuosos, Shamma is joined by musicians performing on violin, flute (nay), dulcimer (qanun), cello, and percussion. The concert includes Shamma’s original compositions, Venus and Halat Wajd (Rapture.)


Naseer Shamma’s Al-Oyoun Ensemble

Naseer Shamma, ‘ud
Saber AbdelSattar, qanun
Hany ElBadry, nay
Hussein ElGhandour, violin
Said Kamal, violin 
Mahmoud Bedir, cello
Amro Mostafa, riqq

This concert took place at the Freer Gallery of Art on March 7, 2013, in conjunction with the exhibition Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and as part of a US tour produced by Alwan for the Arts (New York). The webcast is made possible through support from the Thaw Charitable Trust and by funds from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.

Song (Artist) Track
Solo ‘ud
Lil Ruh Hadith (Discourse of the Soul) 9:08-14:13
Bein el Nakhil 14:25-21:27
Iraq 21:44-29:22
Hilal el Saba
Written in the Arab musical form hilal, this piece uses the melodic mode (maqam) called saba.
Ashur to Sevilla
Solo ‘ud
In this ‘ud solo, Shamma utilizes the five-fingered picking style that dates to the Middle Ages, long before the invention of the pic.
Ba’id Anak (Far from You)
This piece was written by the famous Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi and popularized by the late Umm Kulthum, the preeminent vocalist of the Arab world in the twentieth century. Hamdi wrote a new song for Umm Kulthum nearly every year from 1960 until her death in 1974. The powerfully romantic lyrics to the vocal version are given below.
Ishraq 47:42-1:00:45
For Palestine 1:01:02-1:03:36
Halat Wajd (Rapture, Ecstasy) 1:03:52-1:11:00


Lyrics to Ba’id anak (Far from You)

I’ve forgotten sleep and its dreams
I’ve forgotten its nights and its days
Far from you, my life is torture
Don’t go far from me
I have nothing but teardrops
With my love far from you

Desire conquered me
And the sleepless nights melted me
And no matter how much the desire keeps me up
And no matter how much the separation confuses me
No fire of love will change me
Nor will the days make me far from you

No sleep or tears in my eyes
The separation is over for me
I’ve forgotten sleep and its dreams
I’ve forgotten its nights and its days
That which is between desire and desperation
That which is between fear and its illusions
I worry for you and I’m afraid you’ll forget me
And the desire for you will forever wake me

Refrain: Desire conquered me . . .

Remember me in a beautiful moment
We lived in it for love
May that song remind you of me
The day we heard it together
Take my years
Take all of them
Except for the seconds in which I see you
Desire, ah desire and its agents
Oh how I hide it, oh how I say it
I worry for you and I’m afraid you’ll forget me
And the desire for you will forever wake me

Refrain: Desire conquered me . . .

I was longing for you
When there were only two steps between us
Look how it is now
Where am I, my darling, and where are you?
What to do?
Don’t tell me what to do
You are hope
Why do you deprive me of it?
My eyes were making me jealous of my love
And now they cry for you because of my defeat
Where are you, oh light of my eye?
Oh soul of my heart, where are you?

(from, accessed January 10, 2014)


Naseer Shamma,‘ud, is the leading exponent of the Iraqi school (tradition) of ‘ud(Arab lute) and is part of a legacy that includes such masters as Jamil and Munir Bashir. Born in 1963 in al-Kut in southern Iraq, Shamma graduated from the Baghdad Academy of Music. A highly original composer, his reputation is built upon his knowledge of classical ‘ud traditions and repertoires, astounding virtuosity, and technical and musical innovation.

As founder in 1998 and director of the Cairo-based Bayt Al-‘Ud, the first conservatory dedicated to the Arab lute, Shamma has served as a mentor to thousands of music students in the Arab world. Bayt Al-‘Ud now has branches in Alexandria, Algeria, and Abu Dhabi, and it has expanded to include training on other Arab instruments, such as qanun, violin, nay, and percussion.

The Al-Oyoun ensemble, founded in 1999, is a chamber group featuring some of the most highly skilled musicians in Cairo. It performs a genre of music that Shamma defines as Arab chamber music, a conceptual expansion of the classical Arab takht, the representative musical ensemble of the Middle East. Although Shamma and Al-Oyoun have a busy touring schedule—performing regularly in concert halls across Europe, Asia, and the Arab world—their US tour in 2013 was the first in more than a decade. Shamma refused to perform in the United States during the occupation of Iraq.

Shamma’s commercial recordings include Ishraq (1996), Le Luth de Baghdad (1998), The Moon Fades (1999), Meditation (2005), Hilal Nasser Shamma & Oyoun (2005), Ard Al Sawad (2006), and Maqamat Ziryab (2006).

Amro Mostafa Sadik Mahmoud Atia, riqq, has participated in several international festivals as a soloist or ensemble member. He was active in the Conference of Arab Music in Egypt from 2000 to 2004 and performed at the Carthage Festival, the Jordanian Jerash Festival, the Silk Road Festival (Syria), the Winter Music Festival (Kuwait), and the City Festivals in Tunisia from 2001 to 2004. A member of the Hafni Musical Group, he has appeared with Naseer Shamma and Lebanese artist Mahmoud al-Turkmani, touring with them in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Oman, Italy, the United States, France, and Switzerland.

Said Kamal Mohamed Zaki, violin, was born into an artistic family in Giza, Egypt. He began studying music at the age of four and later graduated from the Higher Conservatory for Arab Music with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. He has been a violin instructor there since 2001. Renowned as a violin soloist in Egypt and beyond, he has performed in concerts and festivals across the Arab world. He established the Sir Orchestra with Naseer Shamma, which appeared at the Abu Dhabi Classical Music Festival, and he has performed with Shamma as a solo violinist since 1998.

Hussein ElGhandour, violin, studied violin at the Music Conservatory in Egypt and since 1996 has been performing at the Egyptian Opera House with the philharmonic orchestra under maestro Mustafa Naji. He has performed as a violinist with Salim Sahhab’s musical group since 2000 and has been performing with the Al-Oyoun musical group since it was founded. In addition to his virtuosity on the violin, he is also a proficient lyricist and composer.

Saber AbdelSattar Mahmoud Shiha, qanun, received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, with honors, from the Higher Conservatory for Arab Music; his doctoral thesis is on the qanun. He has taught at the Higher Conservatory (1995–98), at the Egyptian Opera House (2001), and at the Arabic ‘Ud Society (2005–11). In addition to performing with many musical groups, including the Umm Kalthoum Group, and winning second prize in a music competition of the Egyptian Higher Council for Culture and Arts, he has been the principal qanun player for Egyptian state radio since 1998. Among his many recordings is the CD Thakira (Memory), featuring his own compositions of classical muwashahat. He is writing a book on the challenges faced by qanun in the contemporary world of music and entertainment.

Hany Hamed Mohamed ElBadry, nay, was born in Kuwait and moved to Egypt, where he studied nay under Qadiri Surour in Cairo. ElBadry expanded his studies to include flute, clarinet, and trumpet, and he graduated in 1999 with honors and a specialization in nay. He has performed frequently within Egypt and internationally, appearing with soloists Mohamad Tharoub, Mohammad al-‘Azby, and Sabah Fakhri, and with the ensembles Mohammad Abdel Wahhab Arab Music Group, the Egyptian Airlines Musical Group, the Turath Arab Music Group, the Rida Popular Arts Group, and Iftikasat. During his musical studies, he met Shamma, joined Al-Oyoun, and has been playing with the group ever since.

Mahmoud Ahmed Mostafa Bedir, cello, was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and received his master’s degree, with honors, from the Higher Conservatory for Arab Music and Arts Academy. He has performed with the Egyptian National Philharmonic Orchestra, under maestro Salim Sahhab, as well as with many of the most acclaimed Egyptian and Arab musicians and groups in festivals across the Arab world. He performed with Al-Oyoun at the opening of the Arab Summit in Baghdad in 2011 and has represented Egypt in many international and European music competitions and festivals.


This concert podcast is coordinated by Michael Wilpers, public programs manager.

This podcast was made possible through support from the Thaw Charitable Trust. Audio preservation and editing of this recording were supported by funds from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.

Supported by Saudi Aramco, this concert was presented at the Freer Gallery of Art in conjunction with Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from November 17, 2012, to February 24, 2013. The exhibition tour includes the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh (June–November 2013), the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (December 2013–March 2014), the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City (April–July 2014), and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (October 2014–January 2015).

The 2013 United States tour of Naseer Shamma’s Al-Oyoun Ensemble was a production of Alwan for the Arts (New York). The program was made possible with the support of the Egyptian Embassy, the Iraqi Culture Center, the Egyptian Education and Cultural Bureau in Washington, D.C., and the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.

Thanks to Andy Finch for audio recording, SuMo Productions for audio editing, Nancy Eickel for text editing, Torie Castiello Ketcham for web design, Massumeh Farhad for curatorial review, and especially the artists for granting permission for their performance at the Freer Gallery to be presented as a podcast.

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