Professor of Ancient Studies, Hampshire College
"LAYAALI has been a stand-up hit at Hampshire College for many years. They bring to every performance a contagious love of their repertoire and a deep understanding of the traditions and cultures from which it springs. Their artistry, enthusiasm and humor combine to make their performances uniquely memorable."
-- Robert Meagher,
LAYAALI is a Massachusetts-based group of talented musicians whose love and dedication to Arabic music have earned them wide acclaim from both ethnomusicologists and audiences at sold-out performances throughout the U.S. and internationally. The ensemble is committed to performing the traditional music of the Arab world and to preserving the rich legacy of Arabic culture through soulful vocals, hypnotic instrumental improvisations, electrifying percussion, and faithful renditions and recordings of master works.
LAYAALI’s mission is to increase the awareness of Arabic music and culture through concerts, recordings, workshops and lectures. The musicians, who come from four Arab countries – Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Morocco -- include: Jamal Sinno (qanun and vocals), Muhammed Mejaour (nay and percussion), Kareem Roustom (oud), Michel Moushabeck (tabla, riqq, daff), and Geena Ghandour (vocals).
Members of the ensemble have performed at major international concert halls (London’s Peacock Theatre, Singapore’s Victoria Theatre, Paris’s La Salle Gaveaux), at museums (Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Porter-Phelps Museum), at colleges and universities (Yale University, Boston University, Harvard University, Hampshire College, Smith College, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Georgetown University, and many others), at world music festivals (Balkan Night, Boston International Festival), at notable music halls (Club Passim, The Iron Horse) and at churches nationwide.
About the Repertoire
Arabic music has a distinctive sound – an enveloping sound with unique, haunting rhythms; it has a defining structure based on ancient modes called maqams, but allows plenty of improvisation, individually and collectively. LAYAALI is an ensemble of highly polished players, full of energy and attentive to detail.
The music performed by LAYAALI ranges from the great classical compositions of 19th and early 20th century masters such as Jamil Bey al-Tanburi, Tatyus Afandi, Riad al-Sinbati, and Sayed Darwish to the classics sung by the likes of Umm Kulthoum, Asmahan, Leyla Murad and Fairuz, from Muwashshahat (poetic compositions of Andalusian origin) and popular folk songs to the contemporary works of composers such as Ziad Rahbani. They include instrumental pieces that stretch the players’ limits as well as mournful songs that unfold like short stories in the warm and inviting voice of Geena Ghandour.
About the Musicians
Syrian born composer and oud player, Kareem Roustom has composed, arranged, and produced music for film (Paramount Pictures, Fox Pictures), television (MTV, NBC, Lifetime, Showtime), multimedia, the concert hall, and album projects. He has performed at concert halls throughout the U.S. and Europe and most recently toured with the Boston Camerata. Kareem moved to the U.S. in the early 1980s. He studied music at the Berklee College of Music and at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. In 1996, he was awarded the Pete Carpenter fellowship from BMI. He is currently a visiting lecturer at the Tufts University.
A highly accomplished qanun player, Jamal Sinno has performed with leading Arab musicians worldwide and at notable concert halls, including La Salle Gaveaux in Paris and The Victoria Theatre in Singapore. He studied qanun performance and theory with Muhammad Sabsabi at the Lebanese Conservatory of Music and later played with Salim Sahhab, the acclaimed conductor of the Arab National Musical Ensemble. Since moving to the U.S. in 1980, he has performed with Simon Shaheen, toured with Iraq’s Kazem as-Saher, and was a member of Anatolia, with whom he recorded Lost Songs of Palestine.
A Palestinian, born and raised in Beirut, Michel Moushabeck is a versatile percussionist with over 35-years experience in tabla, riqq, and daff performance. In addition to classical Arabic, he is comfortable playing a variety of musical styles from jazz to flamenco to Afro-Cuban congas. Michel came to the U.S. in 1979, attended New York University, and has since performed at notable concert halls worldwide. For 10 years, he was the lead percussionist with Anatolia Middle East Music Ensemble. He played riqq, tabla and daff on the music soundtrack of an award-winning BBC/WGBH documentary on Islam, which aired as part of the series The People's Century. His recording credits include two albums with Anatolia: Lost Songs of Palestine and Folk Songs and Dance Music from Turkey and the Arab World. He is the author of several books and he lectures frequently on Arabic music and literature. He makes his living as an editor and publisher.
Moroccan born nay (reed flute) player, percussionist, and flute maker, Mohammed Mejaour is a brilliant exponent of the Arabic classical repertoire and a leading interpreter of contemporary works. He is known for bringing the nay’s hauntingly beautiful sounds to audiences throughout the U.S. and Europe for over three decades. Born into a musical Berber family, he was taught rhythm (playing spoons) and chant by his mother at the age of five. He joined the House of Youth Ensemble at age eight and in his teens he earned his living as a street performer and storyteller. Since moving to the U.S. in 1981, he has toured with many leading vocalists and Middle Eastern ensembles and was a 7-year member of Anatolia, with whom he recorded Lost Songs of Palestine.
Born in Lebanon, Geena Ghandour began studying voice and vocal performance with her mother at a very early age. At age 14 she won Lebanese Television's “new star” competition, which launched her career and established her as a major new voice in Arabic music. Geena has performed as a soloist in concerts throughout Europe and the Middle East. Since moving to the U.S. in 1991 she has participated in numerous live performances, most recently as a featured soloist with the acclaimed world music ensemble Anatolia, where she received much recognition for her strikingly beautiful voice and soulful interpretations of classic pieces. She is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She currently lives in North Carolina.
Praise for Layaali’s Performances
“I want to congratulate you for presenting such a thrilling concert… The program selection of songs was well-balanced to allow our audience to be informed about the diversity and differences in style of Arabic music. Your pre-performance talk framed artistic issues in a culturally sensitive way and contributed much to promoting an openness of attitude among the audience. I was particularly delighted to note the high quality of musicianship and expertise that the group has achieved…Truly, the music concert was a memorable one by all standards.”
- Ranjanaa Devi, Director, Asian Arts & Culture Program, Fine Arts Center, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
“I wanted to commend all the members of Layaali on an outstanding performance at Yale University this past spring. The group’s professionalism and enthusiasm made the concert a grand success. Yale students/faculty and New Haven community members were enriched by the event, and those in the audience that had a personal connection to the Arab world were particularly moved—in many cases, to tears! Your presence at Yale marked a unique and historic event for us at the Council on Middle East Studies. On behalf of our Council, I’d like to personally thank you for sharing your talent with our community. It means so much in these difficult times to be able to stop and enjoy music—to forge a connection with the Arab World that is not tied to political strife and conflict, but instead highlights the artistic passion that is so characteristic of the region. Layaali is a shining example of how to inspire social change through cross-cultural understanding. Thank you for sharing your gift with us.”
- Greta Scharnweber, PIER Director, Middle East Studies, Center for International and Area Studies
"Layaali is absolutely exquisite! The members not only possess skills of the highest order, but most impressively, they perform with a spellbinding passion unmatched by any other group. Their charm, warmth, and humanity will leave you breathless and eager for more!"
- Dr. Calvin P. Chen, Luce Assistant Professor of Politics, Department of Politics, Holyoke College
“We loved the concert. It was one of the nicest nights we've spent in an otherwise much too stressful semester.”
- Dr. Robert Sullivan, Professor/Near Eastern Studies Program, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
“The Layaali Ensemble is a breath of fresh air in the world of Arabic music. Their Andalusian and 19th to early 20th century classical performances will keep you mesmerized throughout the concert. Sayyed Darwish and other pillars of Arab musical culture are brought back to life by this group of gifted young musicians accompanied by the highly talented vocalist Geena Ghandour. One of the best new contributions to Arabic music in North America.”
- Naseer Aruri, Chancellor Professor (Emeritus) of Political Science, University Of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
“The music of Layaali moves the soul and stirs the spirit. A combination of tradition, activism, and pride, the beat of the musicians and the voice of Geena Ghandour sends you to the Arab world and awakens your senses.”
- Jeff Mendez, The Palestine Center, Washington, D.C.
“On behalf of the Executive Committee of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, I would like to thank you for your musical performance on November 21, 2003. We really enjoyed hearing your outstanding repertoire of traditional Arabic music. The event was an extraordinary success. Your poignant and distinctive performances had a profound impact on the attendees, which included Georgetown faculty, students, and members of the general public.”
- Rania Kiblawi, Public Affairs Coordinator, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
“Thank you for a wonderful performance at New City Art. Layaali’s music and the excellent presentation, not only enriched our audience, but also helped us to present a program of the highest quality. We hope to see you perform at New City Art again.”
- Vitek J. P. Kruta, Co-director, New City Art
“The auditorium at the George Washington University was filled to capacity…The evening provided stirring musical entertainment…The ensemble immediately connected with the hearts of the audience as they performed well-known classical compositions of 19th and 20th century masters…ended with uplifting renditions of famous Palestinian songs…ADC was proud to be a part of providing an evening of Arabic music with the famous Layaali Arabic Music Ensemble to its Washington, DC audience.”
- ADC Times, 1st Qtr 2004 Issue, Vol. 21, No. 12, Washington, DC
“The brilliant and accomplished musicians of Layaali have brought to audiences at The Global Women's History Conferences at Westfield State College a beautiful array of music from the regions represented by our delegates. This has deeply enriched our work and given us an opportunity to relax and rejoice after three days of intensive work. I can't imagine a better 'note' to end on! We thank Layaali for their unique contributions in these difficult times to our knowledge of the Middle East and for reminding us of the important role of the arts in bringing people together.”
- Elise Young, Director, Global Women's History Project, Associate Professor, History Department, Westfield State College
“Layaali's performance was wonderful - thank you for a fabulous evening!! I know everyone would have enjoyed another hour or two of music - it was fantastic!! I hope to see your group return to Smith campus in the near future.”
- Cindy Furtek, Poetry Center and Film Studies Program, Smith College, Northampton, MA
“I would like to thank all the members of Layaali Arabic Music Ensemble for your inspiring contribution to our production of The Arabian Nights. Rarely does the execution of an idea surpass the original intention, but your spirit and generosity, as well as your musicianship, have inspired these students and me for a lifetime.”
- Josh Perlstein, Associate Professor, Department of Theatre, Central Connecticut State University
“You were a big hit! People are still talking about your great concert. It's been great collaborating with you and I hope to continue this collaboration in the future.”
- Armando Vargas, Assistant Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature, Williams College, Williamstown, MA
“It was a great performance, and I'm so very pleased that we located your group and that you were able to travel to Williams College. Everyone I spoke to afterwards remarked on your group's musical talent and how wonderfully you explained the music culture from the Middle East and North Africa. I will suggest to the Music Department that they bring Layaali back again in the future for their series of world music.”
- Administrative Director/Center for Foreign Languages, Literatures & Cultures, Williams College, Williamstown, MA
“Layaali Arabic Music Ensemble brought to Middlebury students an authentic idea about traditional Arabic music going back to the 19th century. For many students it was their first time listening to Arabic music and it was splendid.”
- Ikram Masmoudi, Assistant Professor of Arabic and International Studies, Middlebury College,VT
“This was certainly a concert to remember. It was a great pleasure to attend the Layaali music concert at Middlebury College and listen to some of the greatest classics of Arabic music and songs. The Layaali Ensemble did a great job introducing the Middlebury community to classical Arabic music, and my students and I spent half an hour in class the following Monday talking about the concert, music traditions in the Arab world, musical instruments, and their fascination by Arabic classical singing. Everyone, without exception, said they had a wonderful time.”
- Usama Soltan, Visiting Professor of Arabic and International Studies, Middlebury College, VT
“Layaali's performance was a richly textured evocation of Arab culture. The audience was transported to places most have never been, and probably will never be. Thanks so much for enriching our campus culture. We will definitely see you again.”
- Susan Pinsker, Chair, Committee for Diversity & Professor of Behavioral Sciences, Berkshire Community College, Pittsfield, MA