Arab Music From Palestine:
The Oriental Music Ensemble

Hear four virtuoso faculty members from the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem performing on their debut American tour in 2006. The ensemble performs classical and contemporary Arab and Turkish music for ‘ud, nay, clarinet, qanun, and percussion. The conservatory, with campuses in Bethlehem and Ramallah, was endorsed by both Edward Said and conductor Daniel Barenboim for its teaching of Western and Arab music to Palestinian youth. This concert was presented in cooperation with American Near East Refugee Aid and recorded live at the Freer Gallery of Art on February 16, 2006.


Oriental Music Ensemble
Suhail Khoury, nay (flute) and clarinet, composer
Ibrahim Attari, qanun (zither)
Ahmad al-Khatib, ‘ud (lute), composer, arranger
Yousif Hbeisch, percussion

Anouar Brahem
Eter al-Ghajar
Mohammed Abdul Wahhab
Balad al-Mahbub
Ahmad Al Khatib
Hikaya Sharqieh (Oriental Tale)
Munir Bashir
Um el-Khilkhal
Suhail Khoury
Marj Ben ‘Amer
Kawthar Hanem/Jamil Beik al-Tanbouri
Longa Nahawand
Jamil Beik al-Tanbouri
Samai Shad Araban
Ghanem Haddad
Suhail Khoury
Said Chraibi/Morocco


Eter al-Ghajar
Anouar Brahem (b. 1957)

Born in Tunis, Anouar Brahem is an ‘ud player and composer living and working in Paris. His original and adventuresome music can be heard on two recordings from the early 2000s on the ECM label: Le Pas Du Chat Noir (with ‘ud, piano, and accordion) and Astrakan Café (with ‘ud, clarinet, and percussion). He is an artist who, while profoundly imbued with his Arab heritage, is unequivocally modern. He performed with his ensemble at the Freer Gallery in 2002.

Balad al-Mahbub
Mohammed Abdul Wahhab (1898–1993)

A native of Egypt, Abdul Wahhab was one of the great Arab singers and composers of the twentieth century. His many works contributed significantly to the development of Arab music. During his long musical career,

he composed more than 1,800 romantic and patriotic songs for himself and other leading Arab singers. His early career coincided with the revival of Arab music in the Middle East. He is responsible for far-reaching changes in Arab music and is credited by critics for giving modern Arabic songs their current musical form.

Hikaya Sharqieh (Oriental Tale)
Ahmad Al-Khatib (b. 1974)

Ahmad al-Khatib, a member of the quartet heard on this podcast, is a rising star as an ‘ud soloist who is pursuing the modern techniques of the Iraqi school of ‘ud performance. His first solo ‘ud CD was produced in 2005 by the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music and features mostly his compositions.

Um el-Khilkhal
Munir Bashir (1927–1997)

The legendary Iraqi composer and performer Munir Bashir is regarded as the greatest ‘ud player of the twentieth century and a master of the Iraqi system of modes or maqamat. Bashir was born in Mosul in northern Iraq and studied ‘ud in Baghdad under the great ‘ud master Muheydin Haidar. His son Omar Bashir performed at the Freer Gallery in 2003.

Marj Ben ‘Amer
Suhail Khoury (b. 1963)

A member of the ensemble heard on this podcast, Suhail Khoury was born in Jerusalem and began his musical career an early age as a clarinettist. In 1983 he entered the University of Iowa, where he studied music performance and musicology. Khoury is director of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. Through this and previous positions, he has played an important role in guiding cultural policy in Palestine. His contributions―as composer, musician, and administrator―have left a strong imprint on the development of contemporary Palestinian music.

Samai Shad Araban
Jamil Beik al-Tanbouri (1873–1916)

One of the greatest composers in Ottoman music, Jamil Beik al-Tanbouri left a body of compositions that are considered masterpieces of the classical repertoire played in Turkey and across the Arab world.

Ghanem Haddad (b. 1925)

Born in Baghdad, Ghanem Haddad studied ‘ud with Muheidin Haidar and was influenced significantly by Iraqi folk music. Haddad remains one of the greatest Iraqi violin players alive today.

Said Chraibi (b. 1951)

Said Chraibi is an important Moroccan ‘ud player with an international reputation. His style of composition comes from the Abdulwahhab School, as well as the Abassid, Ottoman, and Andalusian traditions.

The Oriental Music Ensemble’s 2006 United States tour was organized by ANERA, with support from the Ford Foundation and the Foundation for Middle East Peace.


The Oriental Music Ensemble was established in 1997. The members of the ensemble are all on the faculty of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, headquartered in Jerusalem and with branches in Bethlehem and Ramallah. The ensemble has performed in Belgium, England, Greece, Palestine, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates. The music of this instrumental ensemble is a balance of classical Arab tradition and modernity. The musicians play classic repertoire, their own compositions, and original arrangements of Arab folk music, as well as improvisations, both rhythmic and free. Their current repertoire includes compositions by Lebanese, Kurdish, Turkish, Iraqi, Egyptian, and Tunisian artists, as well as Palestinian composers. During their 2006 debut American tour, the ensemble conducted programs in Washington, DC, at the Duke Ellington School, Georgetown University, the Freer Gallery of Art, and the Washington office/campus of the College of William and Mary. Subsequent engagements included the Curtis Institute of Music and Swarthmore College in Philadelphia and at the Mannes College of Music, New York, and the City University of New York.

A composer and nay (flute) and clarinet player, Suhail Khoury has been instrumental in the development of the musical life of Palestine for the last two decades. He is now the general director of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem and founder and current president of the Regional Forum of Arab Conservatories of Music. He began studying the clarinet with Amin Nasser at the age of seven. After completing his undergraduate studies in music at the University of Iowa in 1985, Khoury returned home and taught music at the Friends Girls School in Ramallah and the Helen Keller School for the visually impaired in Jerusalem. He taught nay at Birzeit University until 1987. For four years, he was the artistic director of the El-Funoun Palestinian popular dance troupe. From 1994 to 1995, he was the director of the department of music and dance at the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, after which he was advisor on music affairs until 1997. He also served as advisor for cultural events for the Bethlehem 2000 Project in 1999.

Khoury’s own discography includes Marah (1987), a recording of ten children’s songs; Marj Ibn Amer (1989), a musical dance show for El-Funoun; Ashiqa (1998), a production of Palestinian songs for “Washem”; and Matar (1998), another children’s CD. On both children’s recordings, Khoury plays all the instruments and is accompanied on vocals by Palestinian children. Bass Shwai is the latest children’s CD, with twelve songs composed by Khoury and sung by four children. Al-Fawanees (2004) was the first musical for children in Palestine, Khoury’s seventh composition project in fifteen years. Khoury collaborated with Ahmad al-Khatib to arrange nine of his compositions to be performed by the ensemble Karloma of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.

Ibrahim Attari, born in Ramallah in 1972, currently teaches qanun (zither) at the three branches of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. He also developed the qanun unit for the Conservatory. Attari was one of the first people to enroll at the Conservatory when it was established in 1993, graduating in 2000. He established Nawa, a music ensemble dedicated to performing and singing Sufi poems. Attari was trained on the qanun by Dr. Shafar at the Higher Conservatory of Music in Istanbul. Ibrahim Attari has performed locally and internationally in music concerts and festivals. He has also participated in several international conferences and workshops, including a conference organized by the Arabic Music Majma’ in Algiers.

Born in the village of Yarqa in the northern Galilee, Yousif Hbeisch completed his studies in literature, philosophy, theatre, and music at the University of Haifa. In 1996, Hbeisch joined the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, where he teaches percussion. Hbeisch has performed at several Jerusalem Festivals and at seasonal concerts organized by the Conservatory and Yabous Productions. He is a member in a variety of musical groups and has also participated in musical performances abroad with local and foreign groups including Les Voix Des Femmes festival in Belgium.

Ahmad al-Khatib is a follower in the footsteps of the great virtuosos of the Iraqi school of ‘ud performance― Muheydin Haidar Jamil Bashir, and Munir Bashir. Their style transcends national boundaries, taking the ‘ud to performance practices beyond the historical limits of the classical style. Al-Khatib began his studies with the Palestinian musician Ahmad Abdel Qasem. He later enrolled at Al-Yarmouk University in Jordan where he studied music and cello, graduating with honors in 1997. While a student, he performed on ‘ud with Al-Yarmouk Musical Quartet and violin duos with Tarek Ismail, performing in Lebanon, Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, and the Gulf states. In 1998, Ahmad became an ‘ud and cello teacher at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. He was instrumental in developing the Oriental Music Department at the Conservatory, later becoming head of the department. Ahmad performed at the Jerusalem Festivals in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2002. He has also given solo ‘ud performances in Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Brazil, Morocco, Turkey, Sweden, Switzerland, and Sharja. His solo ‘ud recording, SADA (Resonance), features his own compositions. As of 2006, he was studying for a master’s degree in ethnomusicology at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music was established in 1993 as an affiliate of Birzeit University. It is headquartered in Jerusalem, with branches in Bethlehem and Ramallah. Its 550 students of elementary through high school age―65 percent on full or partial scholarship―study oriental and western instruments as well as music theory. Its community concert series of thirty to forty performances reaches several thousand people annually. The Conservatory gives young Palestinians the opportunity to discover their talents and inspires them to be part of the future of the music and culture of their community and of the world.


This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording and engineering by Andy Finch and SuMo Productions. Web layout by Gio Camozzi. Copyediting by Nancy Eickel and Ian Fry. Photographs by Laurie Kassman and Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times. The Oriental Music Ensemble’s 2006 United States tour was organized by ANERA with support from the Ford Foundation and the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share their performance at the Freer and Sackler Galleries

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