Amro Helmy, oud/vocals
Majed Abu Ajamia, qanun/vocals
Kim Fleuchaus, nay/flute
Hannah Vis, cello
Don Skoog, percussion
The Chicago Arabic Music Ensemble provides musical performances and presentations for colleges, libraries, schools, and cultural organizations.
Arabic music is thought to be exotic, foreign to the ear, yet it is one of the roots of the Western tradition, distinct yet inseparable from the music of Europe and the New World. CAME explores the songs, the instruments, the styles, and most importantly, the people who make the beautiful sounds of the Arabic world to reveal the shared musical history of East and West.
CAME’s talented artists demonstrate the nay—a haunting-toned cane flute, the cello, the oud—a forerunner of the guitar, the kanun—a finger-plucked zither, as well as the riqq (tambourine), tar (frame drum), and tabla (goblet drum) that became the percussion instruments of the European orchestra.
Their audience-tailored presentations explore styles from different Arabic regions, then examine the poetry of the lyrics, the scale system and rhythmic modes so central to the music. But most importantly they bring to life the many peoples of the Arabic world, to tell their stories and hear their voices reflected in our own. In this time of mistrust CAME builds bridges of understanding through music, a language common to us all.
Amro Helmy is a composer and oud player who has mastered a large number of styles using different techniques, approaches and textures. His style of playing and composing has earned him considerable international attention. His musical style deeply captures the emotion of the audience. He began to teach himself to play oud at the age 14. He has performed more than five hundred concerts around the world and participated in more than a hundred performances at various interfaith programs in Chicago. During the last ten years, Amro’s composition and performance skills have grown in sophistication, resulting in him composing music for the anti-war video documentary NO MORE WAR , the Hope, Life Abeer, Endless, the Window. Beyond his outstanding onstage performances, he is also a teacher of the musical arts in many schools in Chicago.
Majed Abu Ajamia is a Palestinian qanun and oud player who started his studies in Jerusalem with William Hagopian. Since arriving in Chicago in 1991, he has performed Middle Eastern music in public and educational settings, including the Chicago Cultural Center for a reception hosted by Mayor Daley in honor of Arab Heritage Month, at events at the Egyptian Consulate, and at The Oriental Institute. He has also performed with the University of Chicago’s Middle Eastern Music Ensemble. In 2003, as part of the “After School Matters” program, he taught a Middle Eastern Rhythms class at Sullivan High School. In 1995, he composed the music and performed in a play at North Park University called “The Longing,” which captured Palestinian oral histories and stories from 1948 to the present. In 2007 Majed participated in the “Music for the Screen” program at Columbia College, introducing students to Arabic maqqam. Majed teaches Islamic Calligraphy at the American Islamic College.
Kim Fleuchaus has been playing Middle Eastern music for over fifteen years, including performances at the Kennedy Center, the White House, the U.N. Building, NYC’s Symphony Space, Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, and before HRH Queen Rania of Jordan. She has played on WBEZ on Worldview with Jerome McDonnel, and was featured on the documentary film “A Message from the East” and the Jonathan Park radio drama series. She has toured the US and Canada with Muslim playwright Rohina Malik in the one-woman show, “Unveiled.” She holds a music performance degree from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology from Bethel University. A dedicated educator, she is an award winning pedagogue and sought after clinician in the Chicago area, frequently giving lectures on Arabic music at colleges and flute clubs while maintaining an active classical freelance career. She is also a member of the Salaam-Shalom Music Project, an interfaith ensemble exploring the intersecting worlds of the Klezmer and Arabic music traditions.
Hannah Vis is a native of Michigan, who has lived in the Chicago area for 10 years. Hannah performs primarily Western classical and Middle Eastern classical music. She began her music studies through public school education programming at a young age. She received her Bachelor of Music as well as a Spanish language degree from Western Michigan University. Hannah’s passion for middle eastern music began in Chicago. She has performed with a variety of ensembles, such as: Waness Zarour Ensemble, Chicago Persian Music Ensemble, and Middle East Music Ensemble. She has performed with various middle eastern music groups at the Old Town School of Folk Music, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Constellation, and Chicago Cultural Center. In 2018, Hannah had the honor of performing with Simon Shaheen at West Shore Community College in Michigan. Additionally, Hannah has a passion for human communication sciences. She is a speech-language pathologist with school-age children in the Chicago area.
Don Skoog has given presentations and masterclasses at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, the Illinois PAS Day of Percussion, Millikin University, Northwestern University, University of Wisconsin, Kansas State University, the Nashville Jazz Workshop, College of DuPage, Colorado State University, Elmhurst College, Valparaiso University, the Old Town School of Folk Music, Concordia University, and Vandercook College. He was on faculty at the Sherwood Conservatory of Music, is a presenter for The International Music Foundation, was director of the Gallery 37 Latin Big Band, and is author of Batá Drumming, The Instruments, the Rhythms, and the People Who Play Them. He performs with Iranian and Arabic dancers in the Chicago area, and has worked with Simon Shaheen, Michel Merhej, and Tarek Rantisi at the Arabic Music Retreat.
The University of Chicago’s Arabic Language magazine, Majala, has published an article I wrote on Arabic music. While the article is in Arabic I do have an English language version that I will post up here for those of you who want to read it.
Majala Chicago Arabic language Version