Wednesday, August 30, 2006

NEWS: Musical ensembles perform in Chicago

Arab musicians perform for Southwest community
By Arab American Media Services
(Permission granted to republish)

More than 200 people attended the special musical performance hosted by the Southwest Arab American Coalition (SWAC) in Bridgeview August 29.

The evening featured poetry and a wide range of Arabian music that included a special performance by famed Jordanian Oud master Sakher Hattar.

Hattar, who is visiting the United States from his hometown in Fuheis, was accompanied by Chicagoland master violinist Anton Shamoun. Together, their music inspired the attendees to rededicate themselves to advancing the Arab cause and strengthening Arab culture.

“This was a beautiful event,” said Fahed Sweilem, the owner of Heritage Renaissance Enterprises which specializes in importing cultural items from the Middle East to the United States. Their web site is

Sweilem provided the artwork and cultural display items that decorated the performance stage at the Bridgeview Community Center where the show and SWAC events are held every month, usually on the last Tuesday in the evening.

Co-hosts of the evening included The Future News Publisher Mansour Tadros and The Horizon Newspaper Publisher Amani Ghouleh. The sound system was provided by Ehab Rafati.

The evening was filled with entertainers including poetry by Jordanian activist Mahmoud Zeyudi and award winning poet Munira Mesbach Jalfi. Jalfi’s words on Lebanon and the fight of the Lebanese people against the terrorism and violence by Israel inspired the audience to cheers and standing ovations.

A highlight of the evening was the performance by the Tagareed Ensemble that included singer Mary Hazboun, Amjad Hamdan, Shamoun and percussionists Rayan Mayer and Saed Ben Haki.

The Tagareed Ensemble features members of all three Middle East religions, Muslim, Christian and Jew. They performed earlier in the week at the Society of Professional Journalists Convention at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, arranged by the National Arab American Journalists Association which featured a booth and participated in panel discussions there.

Hazboun, who family recently immigrated to the Chicago area from Bethlehem, Palestine, said she was very moved by the audience response and the turnout at the evening event.

“We sing to give strength to our community and our people,” Hazboun said after the show. Tagareed in Arabic means “sound of the singing bird.” SWAC has asked Shamoun and Tagareed to perform at another musical festival to be organized later this year or early next year.

The evening would not have been possible without the hard work of Ibtesam Asfour, president of the Lady’s Guild at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, the largest congregation of Arab American Christians in the Chicago area and located in Cicero, Illinois.

Asfour served as the evening emcee introducing all the poets, performers and attendees.

“This is so important and maybe tonight marks a new beginning when we can bring our community together to celebrate our heritage and our rich culture,” Asfour said.

Also attending the event was North Park College Professor Rev. Donald Wagner. Wagner also said he was very impressed with the turnout and the musical performance and compared Hazboun to a “modernday Fairuz.”

“The Tagareed Ensemble was tremendous and very inspiring, as were all of the performers,” Wagner said. “We need more of this.”

Hattar established the al-Fuheis Troupe for Heritage Revival in Jordan in 1982 and he has been performing his Oud renditions and selections at festivals around the world.

Also attending was Chicago Oud master George Jubran who spent much time sharing experiences with Hattar. Jubran is a favorite of the Arab American community and a longtime performer at local and regional Arab American celebrations and haflis.

SWAC organizer Ray Hanania, who manages the monthly meetings and movies, said that the events have helped to set a new tone both of moderation and in activism for Chicagoland Arab Americans.

“For too long, we’ve been dragged from one political agenda to another. Finally, we have a steady and reliable resource where we can showcase our Arab American heritage representing not only Christians and Muslims, but also the wide variety of Arabs including Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Iraqis and Egyptians,” said Hanania, who is the author of the recent book defining the history of Arab settlement in the Chicago area, “Arabs of Chicagoland.”

SWAC is hosting its next meeting on Tuesday night, Sept. 26. Tentatively, the evening will feature a discussion led by mainstream American politicians on the need for Arab Americans to become more active in Chicagoland Republican and Democrtatic politics.

More information on SWAC and future meetings and movies can be obtained by visiting