Near Eastern Music Ensemble

New York’s Near Eastern Music Ensemble (NEME) was formed in 1982 by Simon Shaheen. NEME consists of seven extraordinary musicians who have gathered from around the Arab World to preserve and perform this rich and elaborate music repertoire and to increase the awareness and appreciation of Near Eastern music through concerts, recordings, workshops, and lecture demonstrations.

They perform the full repertoire of Near Eastern music—from traditional classical and folkloric music to new works by living composers of contemporary and innovative Near Eastern music. NEME provides a highly professional and polished showcase for the preservation and advancement of this musical legacy.

Since its inception, NEME has presented concerts at major universities, festivals, community centers, and museums in North America and Europe. It has performed in concert halls as notable as the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall, and at prominent institutions such as Columbia University, MIT, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, University of Washington, and Juilliard. Over a decade of performing and recording has focused attention on the ensemble, establishing them as the foremost exponents of Arabic music in the United States.

The Near Eastern Music Ensemble’s 1992 recording “Turath (Heritage)” with CMP Records, was selected by the Library of Congress as an outstanding traditional recording of that year. This anthology of classical Near Eastern music features solo improvisation and ensemble works by 19th and 20th century composers from the Arab world and Turkey.


The Qantara group was formed in 1995 by internationally heralded composer and musician Simon Shaheen. Shaheen has established himself as one of the leading composers, recording and performing artists in the genre of classical Arabic music with five successful major recordings and hundreds world touring performances, (“Simon Shaheen may well be one of the finest cultural ambassador the Arab world has”. Reflex Magazine) to his credit. Building on this success decided to evolve his music and live performances to a new phase. Fascinated and moved by his new western musician alliances he was inspired to develop new works that would bridge the two musical worlds and a group that could evoke the musical emotion of these culturally crossed exotic and rhythmically charged sounds. Shaheen’s powerful compositions for this ensemble fuse his Arabic musical heritage with the contemporary sensibilities of postmodern jazz. His works encompass strong classical Arabic and Spanish musical elements that are sensually crafted to integrate with jazz musical components, which provide the harmonic and formal structure for this ensemble’s musical repertoire.
Qantara is comprised of world-renowned musicians whose diverse and uniquely versatile musical styles lend to this rare blend of traditional world music infused with jazz concepts. The instrumentation for the group is comprised of Shaheen on the ‘ud and violin, complimented by artists performing on nay, flute, saxophone, classical guitar, double bass, and world percussion instruments. Qantara is the Arabic word for arch. Hence, the name Qantara reveals the gateway to a new musical expression. After much collaboration with Simon, the musicians of Qantara have acquired the requisite knowledge of Arabic music, and each adds their own distinctive rhythmic sounds to Shaheen’s compositions creating an exciting mix of melodies.
The music of Qantara allows different styles of performance and improvisation to stand out while providing a musical structure that goes beyond the stylistic boundaries. This has resulted in multinational and global musical exchange, which is both electrifying and enriching. The ensemble is a remarkable and distinctive example of world acoustic jazz.