Mohsen Subhi

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Mohsen Subhi
Cambridge, MA, spring of 1999
Background information
Born October 4, 1963
Origin Palestinian
Died August 2, 2009 (Age 46)
Genres Oud, Arabic Music, Oriental Jazz

Mohsen Subhi (Arabic: محسن صبحي‎‎, also, Mohsen Subhi Khalil AbdelHamid Ataya) (October 4, 1963 – August 2, 2009) was a Palestinian composer of classical Arabic music and arranger of modern Palestinian music and folk song.

A master oud player and percussionist, Subhi was born in Ramallah, Palestine on October 4, 1963, where he established himself as a young musician, composer, performer and teacher. He moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1997 and continued living and working in Palestine, the United States (Boston and San Francisco) and Jordan.

Mohsen composed, arranged, (re)interpreted and performed music for television, plays, films and live audiences. After receiving a grant to record his second classical Arabic music (instrumental) CD, Mohsen Subhi (also known as Abu Kinaan) died as a result of an unfortunate accident on August 2, 2009 in Ramallah. He was buried in Al-Bireh.

Education and training[edit]

Subhi in Cambridge, MA (June 1998)

Mohsen began teaching himself music at the age of seven, initially as a percussionist and later on adopting the Oud as his main instrument.[1] Master oud player Hatem Al-Afghani was among Mohsen's early music teachers.[2] In the United States, Mohsen attended classes at Berklee in Boston and the Longy School of Music (Cambridge, MA) where he continued developing his unique style.[3]

Early career[edit]

Mohsen composed, arranged, (re)interpreted and performed music for educational purposes, television, plays, dance troupes, films and live audiences. His unique contributions to Arab classical music and Palestinian folkloric dance brought him wide recognition as a rising musician.

He also taught percussion and/or Oud to children and adults through institutions, schools and private lessons in Ramallah and Jerusalem (Palestine) as well as Boston (1997–1999) and later on, San Francisco (U.S.)[3]

Although best known as an Oud player, Mohsen also used the Buzuq,[4] and was no less talented as a percussionist playing derbakeh (tabla), taar, mazhar (frame drum), and daf (tambourine) fusing Arab, Persian, Indian and African rhythms.

Raseef al-Madeena

Mohsen Subhi played buzuk and percussion with the Ramallah-based group, Al-Rahhala including its 1988 "Raseef al-Madeena".[5]

Later musical works[edit]


While serving as the Music Director of the Palestinian National Music and Dance Troupe (El Funoun) in Palestine, [1] Mohsen composed the music to their popular production “Zaghareed” (also Zaghareet) Ululations in 1997. [2]. Mohsen's reinterpretation and rearrangement of traditional Palestinian folkloric wedding songs was choreographed and danced by the internationally recognized Palestinian dabkeh group, El Funoun Dance Troupe and performed starting 1997. Zaghareed could be best described as "an artistic work that combined authenticity with originality, traditional raw material with more modernistic dance components, and finally a very Palestinian theme with attributes that carry a universal appeal.".[6]


In 2006, the Lebanon-based independent record label Incognito[7] released Mohsen Subhi's instrumental, Mawasem [Seasons], the first compilation of his renowned composition of oud pieces, accompanied by bass, cello and piano (featuring Antoine Lammam - percussions). [3]. In Mawasem, explains Jihad Touma, "Subhi starts in maqam, in a circle widening with revelation, proceeding to a point where, necessarily, commentary falls short." (translated from Arabic from the backcover of Mawasem).[8] Touma continues,

And then there is the passage... He proceeds with working the maqam, confounding it, subtly morphing its identity into hybrid, genuine forms, loading every sound with the pangs of yet unborn maqams... Breaks are not expected in the moments and the spaces they span. Breaks are expected in their reflections. The 'oud trembles, groans, lurches, longs... The 'oud listens to its echo. The echo of the 'oud infuses the horizon of the rhythm as homogenous column. And in the end, the maqam settles on the inevitability of its absence.

Commenting on Mawasem, Rabih Z wrote in the June 2006 issue of Time Out Beirut:[9]

Mohsen Subhi has a very personal way of playing the oud, due to his previous experience as a percussionist and his subtle assimilation of Indian, African and Mediterranean influences. The album has received popular and critical acclaim in Lebanon: It is difficult not to fall helplessly in love with Mohsen Subhi's bewitching album Mawasem. Subhi's masterful oud playing is akin to a mystical art, making this CD breathtaking listening. (Rabih Z, Time Out Beirut, June 2006).[7]

Film scores[edit]

Mohsen composed and performed the original soundtrack for a number of films documenting Palestinian life and history. Examples of film scores by Mohsen include:

  • The Presence of Absence in the Ruins of Kafr Bir’im by John Halaka (2007)[4]
  • The Imaginary Village by Sandy Tolan and Melissa Robbins (2004) [5] Melissa Robbins, co-producer (with Sandy Tolan) of “The Imaginary Village” commented on working with Mohsen and the impact of his music on the documentary[10]

It was also a thrill for me to work with an original score, by Palestinian-American musician Mohsen Subhi Abdelhamid--to have the extra tool and the extra challenge of music. At some point, the music began to feel like another voice in the piece, with its own message to shape and respect.

  • The Inner Tour by Raanan Alexandrowicz (2001). Mohsen (spelled Muhssein Abed Al Hamid in the credits) was one of three artists whose music is used throughout the documentary. He spent the three days in the bus with the group of Palestinians whose stories the documentary attempts to tell and can be seen throughout the movie, often playing his Oud. [6]
  • Ali wa ashabuhu [Ali and his Friends] by Sobhi Al-Zobaidi (2000) [7]

His music was used as additional tracks in other movies. Examples include:


In Ramallah, Palestine (1996)

On August 2, 2009 Mohsen Subhi died in Ramallah as a result of an unfortunate accident. Mohsen was buried in Al-Bireh (see the daily Al-Quds August 3 through 7th, 2009 and September 10, 2009). His latest (and last) classical Arabic music (instrumental) CD will be released in the near future.[11] The October 2009 issue of This Week in Palestine "shar[ed] words rushed by his untimely departure" ([8] pp. 56–57)

"In the act of performance, Mohsen would wrap himself around the belly of his oud – holding on to it as much as holding it – close his eyes, and let handplectrum- fingers-string-nerves-fleshwood fuse into a continuum of vibrations, which entrances as it grips the listener in its resonance." (p.57).[12]

See also [9]


See also[edit]

For samples of Mohsen's music (from Mawasem), visit

For a glimpse of Mohsen, see the trailer for "The inner Tour" where he says: "Some people, they don't like their lives. That's why I ask."