Simon Shaheen dazzles his listeners as he deftly leaps from traditional Arabic sounds to jazz and Western classical styles. His soaring technique, melodic ingenuity, and unparalleled grace have earned him international acclaim as a virtuoso on the ‘oud and violin. A professor of music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Shaheen is one of the most significant Arab musicians, performers, and composers of his generation. His work incorporates and reflects a legacy of Arabic music, while it forges ahead to new frontiers, embracing many different styles in the process. This unique contribution to the world of arts was recognized in 1994 when Shaheen was honored with the prestigious National Heritage Award at the White House. Recently, Shaheen received the Honorary Doctorate from the American University of Beirut. Other Honors and awards Mr. Shaheen had received include: The City of New York Cultural Award, University of California in Los Angeles Department of Music Recognition Award, United Nations Outstanding Artistic Contribution Award, Arthur L. Johnson Award for Social Justice, New Jersey State Heritage Award, The Foundation for Autism Recognition Award, and Berklee College of Music Award for contributions to the advancement of international understanding, goodwill and education. Recently, Shaheen toured with his project, “Zafir,” in the USA, Canada and the Middle East. “Zafir” reflected on the stylistic bonding between Arab music, North African and Spanish traditional flamenco. He also has been touring and performing his oud concerto, which was commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and performed with several orchestras including the Lebanese Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony, Rome Radio Orchestra, Athens Symphony, Syrian National Symphony, South Dakota Symphony, Chicago Sinfonietta, the Palestine National Orchestra to name but few. In the 1990s he released four albums of his own: Saltanah (Water Lily Acoustics), Turath (CMP), Taqasim (Lyrichord), and Simon Shaheen: The Music of Mohamed Abdel Wahab (Axiom), while also contributing cuts to producer Bill Laswell’s fusion collective, Hallucination Engine (Island). He has contributed selections to soundtracks for The Sheltering Sky and Malcolm X, among others, and has composed the entire soundtrack for the United Nations–sponsored documentary, For Everyone Everywhere. Broadcast globally to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Charter. But perhaps his most notable success has come with Blue Flame (ARK21, 2001), where he leads his group, Qantara, on a labyrinthian journey through the world of fusion music to discover the heart of the Middle East. The album has been nominated for eleven Grammy Awards, and the band’s performances have been called “glorious.”Recently, he finished a new recording project “Zephyr,” to be released In June 2017.A Palestinian, born in the village of Tarshiha in the Galilee, Shaheen’s childhood 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 four, and a year later studying violin at the Conservatory for Western Classical Music in Haifa. “When I held and played these instruments, they felt like an extension of my arms.”
After graduating from the Academy of Music in Jerusalem in 1978, Shaheen moved to New York City to complete his graduate studies in performance at the Manhattan School of Music, and later in music education and musicology 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, lectures and residencies in the American educational system. As a champion and guardian of Arab music, Shaheen still devotes almost half of his time to working with schools, colleges and universities, including Julliard, Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, Brown, Harvard, Yale, and many others. His concert credits are a veritable compendium of the world’s greatest venues: Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Cairo’s Opera House, Theatre de la Ville in Beirut, and Belgium’s Le Palais des Arts. In May of 2004, Shaheen appeared at Quincy Jones’ “We Are The Future,” fundraising concert in Rome in support of children educational programs in underserved regions around the world. He conducted the theme song “We Are The Future,” composed by specially for the event and was performed by all participating vocalists in front of a half million strong crowd. Additionally, Shaheen has been collaborating in performances and recordings with world- renowned artists including, Sting, Carlos Santana, Quincy Jones, Al Dimeola, David Brubeck, Mohammad Abdul Wahhab, Bill Laswell, Jeff Beck, Angelique Kidjo, Cheb Khalid, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Sayyed Makkawi, Sabah, and others 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, New York State Music Fund, the Jerome Foundation, Continental Harmony, Chamber Music America, the Library of Congress and Yellow Springs Institute. In addition to his recorded work, his theatrical repertoire includes Majnun Layla, (performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and The Museum of Natural History in New York), The Book and the Stranger (from Kalilah Wa-Dimnah), Possible City (the peak of Culture and Arts in Cordova), Collateral Damage with actress Vanessa Redgrave, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and a “Night In Alhambra.” He has also written the music for the documentary of the British Museum’s Egyptian collection, which has toured U.S. museums. Since 1994, Shaheen has produced the Annual Arab Festival of Arts, called “Mahrajan al-Funun.” Held in New York at the Brooklyn Museum and Town Hall, 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 in Massachusetts, this weeklong intensive program of Arabic music studies draws participants from the U.S. and abroad. In November 2016, the Retreat celebrated its 20th anniversary with a Gala at the Harvard Club in New York City. In Palestine, Shaheen conducts his annual music workshops and residencies at major art institutions designed for young musicians. Additionally, he auditions and recruits music students from around the Middle East for the Berklee College of Music. Since the mid-nineties, Shaheen has focused on Qantara. The band, whose name means arch in Arabic, brings to life Shaheen’s vision for the unbridled fusion of Arab, jazz, Western classical, and Latin American music, a perfect alchemy for music to transcend 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.” Qantara made their first live recording debut on ARK21’s “Historic Live Recording of the Two Tenors & Qantara,” featuring legendary singers Wadi al-Safi and Sabah Fahkri; and Shaheen’s Qantara Ensemble. The event took place at the MGM in Las Vegas and parts of the proceeds were donated in support of the AUB scholarship program. Shaheen and Qantara made their full recording debut with Blue Flame. The Los Angeles Times proclaimed the record “stunning,” National Public Radio called it “a staggering tour-de-force of technique and passion,” CMJ called it “a new benchmark in Arab-Western fusion,” and the Washington Post termed it “eminently cosmopolitan.” The band has been touring regularly, playing concerts and festivals like WOMAD USA, WOMAD Sicily, the Newport Jazz Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival. Traveling throughout Europe and the Middle East, Qantara’s appearances have included: Beiteddine Festival in Lebanon; Les Mediterranean in France; New York’s Central Park Summer Stage; Stern Grove International Festival in San Francisco; Chicago World Music Festival; Royce Hall in Los Angeles; University Musical Society in Ann Arbor; Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis; International Souk Ukaz at the historic citadel in Amman, Jordan amongst others.