near eastern music ensemble


The Near Eastern Music Ensemble's Musicians

Michel Merhej
A native of Jerusalem, Merhej moved with his family to Lebanon where he studied with master riqq performer, Khaled Azmouz in Beirut. He was influenced by another master percussionist, the legendary Mohammad Al-'Afifi of Egypt. Merhej taught in the department of Arabic percussion at the National Conservatory of Music in Lebanon. He was the principle riqq player of the Lebanese radio orchestra for twenty-five years. He has performed and toured worldwide with the Lebanese Diva, Fairuz, performing at prestigious venues such as Be'albak Festival in Lebanon, Carnegie Hall in New York and the Opera in Paris. In 1988, Merhej moved to the United States and since he has been performing and recording with Mr. Shaheen and the Near Eastern Music Ensemble.

Najib Shaheen
Shaheen immigrated to the United States in 1967 from Haifa, Palestine. He is an exceptional ‘oud performer, having studied Arabic music and theory with his father, Hikmat Shaheen, since he was young. In 1988 he began building and repairing ‘ouds at his workshop in New York City. He also started all types of experiments on the construction of the 'oud aiming to further enhance its tone and projection. He has been performing and recording on the ‘oud with the Near Eastern Music Ensemble at concerts throughout the United States and Europe.

Bassam Saba 
Originally from Lebanon, Saba began to study at the age of seven on the 'oud and nay (Arab flute), first with his father and later at the Lebanese National Conservatory of Music in Beirut. In 1976 he moved to Paris to study flute and to perform on the nay with prominent musicians. In 1985 he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory with a masters degree in performance. He has performed with the internationally acclaimed vocalist Fairuz, composer Ziad Rahbani, and composer/performer Marcel Khalifeh. In 1990 Saba moved to the United States, and since he has been performing with The Near Eastern Music Ensemble.

Youssef Kassab
Originally from Syria, Kassab began learning the ‘oud and studying voice with his uncle at early age. He continued his studies at the Damascus Conservatory, specializing in qanun (zither) and classical Arabic music vocal repertoires. There he recorded and performed with the Syrian Radio Orchestra as a vocalist. In 1970 he moved to New York where he has been performing in concerts and festivals throughout the United States and Central America. In 1982, he joined the Near Eastern Music Ensemble as a principle vocalist. Kassab is one of the master performers of classical forms such as the Arabic Muwashshahat (classical Arabic/Andalusian vocal music), Al-Qudud Al-Halabiyya (traditional vocal repertoire from Aleppo, Syria), and 19th and early 20th century Egyptian vocal music.

Rima Khcheich 
Khcheich is an instructor of Classical Arabic Singing at The Lebanese National Superior Conservatory of Music in Beirut. She started singing at the age of seven, and two years later she became a member of the Arab orchestra and choral in Beirut under the direction of Salim Sahhab. At the age of eleven, she became a soloist with Sahhab’s group, singing the most difficult repertoire in Arabic vocal music. A graduate of The Lebanese National Conservatory of Music and The Lebanese American University, Rima has performed in live performances throughout the Middle East, Europe and the USA specializing in Arab-Andalusian Muwashshahat form, and 19th & 20th century Arabic traditional vocal repertoires. Since 1999, Ms. Khcheich has been a faculty member of the Annual Arabic Music Retreat at Mount Holyoke College.

William Shaheen 
After learning the ud from his father Hikmat Shaheen, William studied classical violin at the Rubin Conservatory in Haifa. Now a California resident, he performs regularly on the West Coast and with the Near Eastern Music Ensemble.

Jamal Sinno
Born in Lebanon, Sinno began studying the qanun (Arabic Zither) with his father. In 1978, he joined the Lebanese National Conservatory and studied under master qanun virtuoso Mohammad Sabsabi. In 1980 he joined the traditional ensemble of the Arab Cultural Center in Beirut under the direction of Salim Sahhab. He was the leading qanun player for two years. In 1981 he moved to the USA and lived in Boston. He played in many events with local musicians as well as visiting famous singers such as Lebanese Elie Shwiry, George Wassouf, and the ‘Iraqi Kazem Al-Saher. In 1994, he joined the Near Eastern Music Ensemble.

Dhafer Tawil
Born in Jerusalem, at the age of 12 he started learning percussion and oud at the Jerusalem Institute for Arabic Music. He performed with Mustafa al-Kurd’s Arabic Ensemble for 3 years, at Bir Zeit University, Bethlehem University, the Cultural Institute in Nablus, and Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah. In 1998, he moved to New York City to study with Simon Shaheen. He performs at special projects with the Near Eastern Music Ensemble. He performed at the Grammies with Sting’s Desert Rose.