Musical Performance: A Night in Lebanon: Melchite Hymns and Folk Songs

Sat, February 9, 2008 9:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

(View all musical performances »)

$15 ($10 Students with valid ID)

House opens 8:30PM

Naji Youssef (Vocals)
Najeeb Shaheen (Oud)
Ramzi El-Edlibi (Dirbekke, Riq, Tabl)

And Guest Musician Johnny Farraj (Riq)


This program is unique in many ways. First, it assembles three outstanding musicians, who have been working together since the late 1980s and who are extremely well versed in the repertoire they are performing. Second, it puts together Melchite church music with folk songs to show the mutual influences both genres had on each other where the sacred and profane interacted without boundaries. Finally, it celebrates Lebanon’s rich musical tradition and its connections to parts of Palestine and Syria in particular and to the Arab World in general.

“Naji Youssef, a Lebanese singer who came to the United States in 1988, sang long-breathed, improvisatory songs in a soaring baritone, drawing applause for the intricacy of his melismas.”

New York Times, September 14, 1994

“A beautiful, nuanced tenor, Naji Youssef also serves as a cantor in the Catholic Melchite Church of the Virgin Mary in Brooklyn … his lavish melismatic vocal work incorporated sinuous Arabic melodic patterns (maqamat) intended "to touch the heart."


Naji Youssef

Born in Northern Lebanon, Naji started singing in his church choir at a tender age. He immigrated to the United States in 1988 and has been a leading figure in the Arab-American music scene. He has sung in many venues and festivals and worked in many projects with Simon Shaheen, Philip Glass, and others. Naji’s clear and strong voice is reminiscent of the Lebanese jabali (mountain) style exemplified by great masters such as Wadi’ Assafi, yet the cantorial tradition adds nuance and subtle phrasing to his singing. Naji has mastered many repertoires besides the Melchite hymns, including old poetic singing styles such as mijana, ‘ataba, shruqi and zajal. For many years, Naji has been cantor in the Catholic Melchite Church of the Virgin Mary in Brooklyn, New York.

Najeeb Shaheen

Born and schooled in Haifa, Najeeb started playing the oud at a tender age. His father, the late Hikmat Shaheen, was an accomplished oud player, singer, and music teacher. His grandfather was cantor at the local church. After the 1967 war, Najeeb immigrated to the United States where he attended college. For decades, he has been performing nationally and internationally. Najeeb is a master of taqasim (improvisations) and has a unique style of playing the oud reminiscient of great masters like Al-Qasabji, Farid Al-Atrash and others. He also makes and restores ouds.

Ramzi El-Edlibi

Ramzi El-Edlibi’s dance career began in Lebanon as he studied with the renowned choreographer Wadia Garrar and was a principal dancer with the Caracalla Dance Co. With Carracalla and on his own, Ramzi traveled extensively as a much sought-after performer of the Middle Eastern Folk Dance Art Form, performing in Russia, Japan, Spain, France, the U.K, Egypt, Libya, Iraq and more. Each of these locations have offered not only the opportunity to demonstrate his talents, but to extend them—absorbing influences from the various cultures that would continue to add interesting and varied dimensions to the complex tapestry of his art and his life. Ramzi is also an accomplished percussion player and teacher, mastering the tabla, riq (Arab tambourine) and frame drum.

Johnny Farraj

Johnny Farraj studied the riq (Egyptian tambourine) and frame drum with Karim Nagi and Fairuz's percussionist Michel Merhej. He also studied the oud with Simon Shaheen and Bassam Saba, and classical Arabic singing with Rima Khcheich and Youssef Kassab. As a percussionist, he has performed with Simon Shaheen/Qantrara (Symphony Space) and Amir El-Saffar, and recorded on the soundtrack of the play "9 Parts of Desire" by Heather Raffo. Johnny has performed and given lecture demonstrations in universities and museums throughout the US and Canada, and has taken part in several fusion collaborations involving classical Indian, Persian and Jazz. Johnny annually attends the Arabic Music Retreat, and has created the web site to teach classical Arabic music (maqam) theory.

Last updated: 2015-07-06 12:06:07

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