This film goes behind the scenes with Palestinian icon and musical virtuoso, Simon Shaheen, one of the most significant and celebrated Arab musicians of his generation.
Born into a large musical family from a village in northern Galilee, Shaheen was inspired by his father.
“He introduced me to the secrets of classical Arab music,” Simon Shaheen says of his father Hikmat Shaheen, who was an oud player, teacher and composer.
Since childhood, Simon Shaheen’s artistic hunger and dynamic personality have helped him move from his native Palestine to cross cultural boundaries. He won a music scholarship from Columbia University in New York and later settled in the United States.
But he looked to Palestine, the land of his birth, and to other parts of the Middle East, for the next generation of Arab musical talent. This film shows a series of Skype auditions with Shaheen in the US and his potential students in Ramallah.
Shaheen has specialised in combining traditional Arabic music with Western classical and jazz; and his unique style has drawn followers from across the globe.
For more than 20 years, Shaheen has also been leading a week-long Arabic musical retreat at a centre in rural Massachusetts.
“Part of this retreat is to introduce Arabic music theory in a new, innovative way and from a different viewpoint,” Shaheen says.
For successful young musicians, the retreat is an opportunity to study under one of the most significant musical teachers of a generation whose continuing desire to adapt and change is one of his greatest gifts.
“I like to use the ideas of different music from different countries like Egyptian, Syrian, and Palestinian music, Lebanese, Moroccan, Tunisian and Iraqi music,” Shaheen says.
He adds: “For sure, many of these musical styles have a lot in common but there are differences as well.”
Violinist Layth Sidiq serves as an educator at Shaheen’s retreats. “I went deeper into Arabic music with Simon which made me appreciate my musical roots,” he says. “This encouraged me first to expand my understanding of Arabic music within me before I can share it with others. At the same time I can learn about other music and cultures and if possible merge the two together.”
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