Hicham Chami

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Hicham Chami (born 1977) is a Moroccan musician specializing in the qanun.

Early life and education[edit]

Chami began study of the qānūn (a plucked-string instrument indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) at the Conservatoire National de Musique, de Danse, et d'Art Dramatique in Rabat, Morocco in 1985. His higher education in Morocco included study at ISCAE (L'Institut Supérieur de Commerce et d'Administration des Entreprises) in Casablance, where he earned a B.S. equivalent.


Performance and Arts Administration[edit]

Chami’s conservatory training in Morocco segued into Arts Administration upon his relocation in the United States. While completing his MBA at DePaul University’s Kellstadt School of Business in Chicago, he formed Mosaic, an ensemble of professional Chicago-area musicians from Eastern and Western traditions. The Chicago Classical Oriental Ensemble was launched in 2004, in conjunction with a recording and CD release tour for The Songs of Sheikh Sayyed Darweesh: ‘Soul of a People’. Chami also produced nationwide tours with the Anda-El East-West Orchestra and Yair Dalal/Naser Musa. While in Chicago, Chami also collaborated with prominent musicians Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi, Howard Levy, and Paul Wertico and ensembles Las Guitarras de España and Maxwell Street Klezmer Band. He consulted with composer Robert Kritz on a commissioned work, Diaspora Dances. Chami produced a concert for touring Algerian vocalist Souad Massi.

As Chami extended his collaborations to the East Coast, he was tapped for other recording projects, including A la Una: In the Beginning with Ladino vocalist Sarah Aroeste. This broader horizon allowed Chami to connect with other professional Arab musicians interested in authentic performance practice, and the Chicago Classical Oriental Ensemble was re-named the Arabesque Music Ensemble to indicate its national composition. A second recording project, The Music of the Three Musketeers (al-Fursan at-Talatha) focused on three composers for the legendary Egyptian vocalist Umm Kulthūm.

These two critically acclaimed recordings solidified the ensemble’s reputation as one of the few professional ensembles in North America solely dedicated to the traditional Arab repertoire (turāth). The Arabesque Music Ensemble performed at the Festival du Monde Arabe de Montréal and for the University Musical Society of Ann Arbor, Michigan during a chamber music series featuring Yo-Yo Ma and the Emerson String Quartet. As guest artist with the al-Bustan takht ensemble, Chami has shared a stage with Marcel Khalife, Fathy Salama, Dalal Abu Amneh, and Jason Vieaux. He currently tours and presents residencies with violin virtuoso Hanna Khoury as the Khoury/Chami Duo.

Educational activities[edit]

Chami’s concern for the preservation of the turāth led him to design a curriculum for music instruction in the traditional mentorship model of the Arab World. The Heartland Seminars on Arab Culture, held at a retreat center in Wisconsin, offer one-to-one instrumental and vocal lessons from ensemble members in addition to performance opportunities and background lectures on history and theory by respected ethnomusicology Scott Marcus of the University of California-Santa Barbara. Chami has also presented hundreds of educational programs via Urban Gateways and university residencies throughout the U.S. He is a guest lecturer for the al-Bustan Seeds of Culture educator workshops in Philadelphia and the intensive Arabic summer program of MMLA (Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy).


A residency at the School of Music of the University of Florida campus in 2009 followed by a series of master classes parlayed into the establishment of the Near East Music Ensemble and granting of a fellowship for graduate study. Chami’s teaching responsibilities included a non-traditional World Music course for undergraduates, offering a conceptual rather than regional approach. His thesis research explored Arab influence on European music resulting from the milieu of al-Andalus, as transmitted from Córdoba and Ripoll through the Mediæval monastic system. Chami concurrently began compiling a comprehensive, multi-language bibliography of books, articles, and dissertations on Arab music (currently numbering 8,000+ items), noting the absence of a publication of this type. Chami co-founded the non-profit Arabesque Foundation for Arab Culture as an umbrella organization for educational/cultural and publishing ventures.

Chami is enrolled in the Islamic Studies program at Columbia University. His doctoral research involves the first translation of al-Shushtarī’s complete diwan and investigation of the Sufi poet’s role in culture transfer betwixt al-Andalus and to the Maghreb via Sufi turuq. Academic papers presented at universities and national/regional conferences of SEM (Society for Ethnomusicology) have centered around themes of hybridity in the works of Arab-American composers, the role of Inta ‘Omri in the decline of the turāth, Arab music pedagogy, and the Moroccan genre malḥūn vis-à-vis the Andalusian muwashshaḥ. He has lectured at specialist gatherings of Andalusian/Maghrebi scholars, e.g. Le Centre des Musiques Arabes et Méditerranéennes in Tunisia and the “Legacy of al-Andalus” symposium at the University of Minnesota. Chami was elected President of SAMR (Society for Arab Music Research), a special-interest group within SEM, in 2014. He is managing editor of JAMR (Journal of Arab Music Research) a specialized journal in the field, and hosts a Web site to network Arab music scholars.


2017. “‘A Sojourn Elsewhere’: Preserving the Turāth in the Arab Diaspora.” In The Oxford Handbook of Musical Repatriation. Oxford University Press.

2016. Articles on Andalusian Music, Arab Classical Music, Bashir Brothers, Cheb Khaled, Darbuka, Malhun, Qanun, Rai, Rebab, Riq, and Taqsim in Music Around the World: A Global Encyclopedia. ABC/Clio.

2015. Articles on Advocacy, Anasheed, Egypt, Muwashah, Orientalism, Representation, and Research in SAGE Encyclopedia of Ethnomusicology. SAGE Publications.

2015. Words Adorned. al-Bustan Seeds of Culture.

2014. “Deconstructing a Medieval Legend: Guido D’Arezzo, the ‘Arabian Influence’, and the Role of ‘Historical Imagination’.” Master’s thesis, University of Florida. http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0046810/00001

2013. Review: “Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation by Thomas Turino.” Journal of American Folklore 126, 101-103.


2015. Words Adorned: Andalusian Poetry and Music. al-Bustan Seeds of Culture.
2013. Rihla.
2009. Amreeka [soundtrack]. National Geographic Entertainment.
2009. “Hicham Chami on Music & Language” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlmomqRYJ3o
2008. The Music of the Three Musketeers [al-Fursan at-Talatha]. Xauen Music.
2006. The Songs of Sheikh Sayyed Darweesh: ‘Soul of a People’. Xauen Music.
2003. Sultana, pieces drawn from the Moroccan-Judaic tradition
2003. Threads [soundtrack].
2003. A la Una. Sephardic/Ladino Music project
2002. Promises: Oriental Classical Music. Rootstock Recordings. 2002. Verses. Arabic and Jazz Music Fusion.

Performance citings[edit]

  • 2006.02.20 Kennedy Center (Millennium Stage)
  • 2005.08.31 Kennedy Center (Millennium Stage)

External links[edit]