Music in Global America


Amir ElSaffar 

Iraqi-American trumpeter, santur player, vocalist, and composer Amir ElSaffar has distinguished himself with a mastery of disparate musical styles and a singular approach to combining aspects of Middle Eastern music with American jazz, extending the boundaries of each tradition. Born near Chicago in 1977 to an Iraqi immigrant father and an American mother, A skilled jazz trumpeter with a classical background, ElSaffar has created new techniques to play microtones and ornaments that are idiomatic to Arabic music but are not typically heard on the trumpet. Additionally, he is an acknowledged performer of the classical Iraqi maqam tradition, and performs actively in the US, Europe and the Middle East as a vocalist and santur player. As a composer, ElSaffar has used the microtones found in maqam music to create a unique approach to harmony and melody, establishing himself as an important voice in an age of cross-cultural music making. [Pi Recordings]

Tarek Yamani          

Tarek Yamani is an Lebanese-American New York-based composer and self-taught jazz pianist. In 2010, he won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Composers Competition for his composition Sama'i Yamani featuring Syrian singer Rasha Rizk. Since the release of his debut Ashur in 2012, Tarek has been dedicated to exploring relationships between African-American Jazz and Arabic rhythms/maqams which are most evident in his second album Lisan Al Tarab: Jazz Conceptions in Classical Arabic. []

"Ah Ya Zein" is a song by famed Egyptian-Syrian composer/singer/actor Farid al Atrash that has been recorded many times over the past eight decades. It is associated with baladi, a folk form of dance that became urbanized and is now known in English as belly dance. (The lyrics can be translated as "Oh beautiful among all others, flower blooming in the garden, I am infatuated with his beauty, my soul is lost in his beautiful eyes.")

Three videos below show different versions of the song: a scene from a movie featuring the iconic baladi dancer Samia Gamal;  belly dancer Sadie Marquandt with music by Beirut Underground; and Tarek Yamani's jazz interpretation.

Yamani's title also references the Middle Eastern dance, the dabke, and its accompanying music, seen and heard in this video from Beirut.


These days equally proficient on both guitar and oud, Brian Prunka composes and performs jazz and middle-eastern influenced music with his own projects (such as the Near East River Ensemble) and with musicians such as Michael Bates and Simon Shaheen. He currently performs with Nashaz, Sharq Attack, Zikrayat, the Bil Afrah Project and others. []

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