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Nights of Happiness: Arab​-​American Violinist in New York ca. 1954​-​61

by Sami Shaheen

Mijwiz Dabka 03:00
Raks Dabke 02:57
Dabka 02:44
Jaz Ayer 02:41
Arabic Song 03:21


Biographical work on Shaheen has been done by Prof. Richard Breaux, published on his excellent blog syrianlebanesediasporasound.blogspot.com/2019/07/semi-sheheen-accompanied-manyon.html . It would be pointless to reinvent the wheel when he already done so much of the work of unpacking Shaheen's complicated family origins. Much of what follows is derived from his efforts.

Saaleem (Sam) Shaheen was along with Naim Karacand, Philip Solomon, and Hakki Obadia one of the most talented and in-demand Arab-American violinists of the middle of the 20th century. Unlike the others, he was second-generation, having been born the second of nine children in Utica, New York to his parents Tony (b.1896) and Rose Shaheen on April 12, 1918. His parents immigrated from Mount Lebanon in 1914-15. After one year of high school, he worked various jobs including at the Oneita textile plant, like his mother, and as a grocery store clerk while playing music. It wasn't until he was in his 30s when he began to travel to play professionally at east coast gatherings (haflas) from D.C. to Connecticut with a who's-who of the Arab-American musical community including Mohammed El-Bakkar, Anton Abdelhad (who, like Shaheen was second-generation, born in Boston in 1915), Odette Kaddo, Joe Budway, Mike Hamway, Karacand, Solomon, etc. It was around that time that he recorded these sides in Brooklyn.

Breaux points out that Shaheen performed regularly on the radio through the 50s and 60s and played as an accompanist for Eddie "The Sheik" Kochak, Kahraman, Elie Baida and others before joining the Utica Symphony in 1964. The LP he self-released in a small edition in 1961 shows the influence of Armenian, Greek, and eastern European immigrant contemporaries as well as the emerging belly dance craze. He also gave space on the album to his uncle, Tonus Baaraad to perform on the mijwiz; it's reasonable to assume that he had been a student of his uncle.

He performed live into the '80s in a band with members of his family. He died January 30, 2009 at the age of 90. His recordings provide us with an excellent snapshot of the music of Arab-American gatherings during the 1950s and the enduring traditional music in the hands of a real expert.


released December 2, 2022

Transfers and restoration by Ian Nagoski

Tracks 11 & 16 composed by Sam Shaheen
Raymond Shaheen assumed to play derbake (hand-drum) throughout
Mijwiz solo on track 21 by Tonus Baaradd

Thanks to Richard Breaux and Brian Prunka

Titles are presented here as they are given on the original disc labels except those in parentheses.


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