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«The Music Of Mohamed Abdel Wahab»
ZEHRA, 008

The Music Of Mohamed Abdel Wahab is a most welcomed reissue of Palestinian oud-violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen’s masterful interpretations of the compositions by one of the Middle East’s most important and influential 20th Century composers, Egyptian composer, vocalist and actor Mhjamed Abdel Wahab (1902-1991). The album was produced by Bill Laswell and was released originally on the label that Laswell curated, Axion, in 1990. The reissue is remastered for vinyl.

Abdel Wahab revolutionized the film industry by introducing the genre «musical film» to the Arabic world, the movie. In 1950, Abdel Wahab left the film industry to focus on singing and composing and wrote over 1800 songs, including for Umm Kalthoum, an iconic artist in Arabic music in her own right, that was deeply rooted in classical Arabic music but also laid the foundation for a new era of Egyptian music as Abdel Wahab was open to Western elements such as waltz rhythms or even rock’n’roll. He also composed the national anthems of Tunisia, Oman, Libya and the United Arabic Emirates and re-composed the Egyptian national anthem «Belady Belady Belady».

Shaheen was born to a family of gifted musicians, he learned to play the oud at the age of 5 and the violin shortly thereafter. He emigrated to the United States in 1980 and lives in New York where he founded the Near Eastern Music Ensemble and Qantara, a formation that blends traditional Arabic Music with elements of Jazz and classical music. He also has been organizing the Annual Arab Festival of Arts called Mahrajan al-Fan since 1994. He participated in many cross-cultural musical projects with musicians as diverse as Henry Threadgill, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, and the Jewish klezmer ensemble The Klezmatics. His work incorporates and reflects a legacy of Arabic music, while it forges ahead to new frontiers, embracing many different styles in the process.

Shaheen’s meticulous adaptions and arrangements for his large ensemble highlight the musical richness and depth of Abdel Wahab’s compositions songs («Sittel Habayeb» and «Bortuqal»). These instrumental compositions and songs are playful, engaging and thoughtful at the same time, rooted in the traditional, classical Arabic legacy but seamlessly corresponding with Western classical music (especially on the flamenco-tinged  «مقطوعات التنويعات من «من غير ليه – Theme & Variations»). Shaheen’s solos on the oud, violin and viola distill the emotional elation the listeners feel when hearing these iconic compositions, the tarab – the feeling of ecstasy and trance. The natural, carefully balanced interplay of his ensemble of virtuoso musicians and vocalists is simply magnificent, still relevant and inspiring.

Eyal Hareuveni

Simon Shaheen (oud, vio, viola), Najib Shaheen (oud), Sheikh Taha (acc), Anton Hajjar (ney), Paula Bing (fl), Ramzi Bisharat (tabla), Hanna Mirhige (mizhar), Michael Baklouk (daff), Bobby Farah (sagat), Ibrahim Salman (quanoun), Artemis Theodos (vio),  Gabriel Palka (vio), Nessim Dakwar (vio), Kamil Shajrawi (vio), Mike Richmond (b), Michael Finkel (c), Vladimir Greenberg (c), Laura Shaheen, Louise Salman, Maurice Chedid, Nermine Rawi, Simon Shaheen, Youssef Kassab (chorus)

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