Hazem Shaheen was born in Alexandria in 1978. At 20, he was awarded a diploma by the Higher Institute of Arab Music in Cairo, with the grade ‘excellent’. He soon became a master of the oud. After three years of studies, in 2002 he was one of the first persons to qualify at the Arabic Oud House, the first school in the world that is entirely devoted to the teaching of the oud. It was founded in Cairo in 1999 by Naseer Shamma. The Iraqui Kurd master of this king of Arabic musical instruments had been imprisoned for nearly 6 months in 1989 for criticising the policies of Saddam Hussein (1937-2006), before leaving the country. ‘I refused to play for that madman three times’. Hazem Shaheen understood this rebelliousness clearly as he was the son of Hussain Shaheen, a communist who had always been on the side of the poor and who was a famous opponent of the despotic Egyptian regime, whoever the pharaoh—Anwar Sadat or Hosni Mubarak.
In 2001, Hazem was hailed as ‘the best oud player in the Arab world’ at an international oud concert in Beirut sponsored by the Catholic University of Beirut. He founded his own orchestra called Eskenderella (a world combining Alexandria and Cinderella) that plays his compositions inspired by the lines of Egyptian poets. The group often uses the lyrics and music of two mythical figures in Egyptian music: Sayed Darwish (1892-1923) of Alexandria, a pioneer of the renewal of the Nile tradition, and the blind bard Sheikh Imam (1918-1995), born in a village near the Giza pyramids and who served several prison terms for his protest songs, especially during the presidency of Anwar Sadat (1970-1981). Hazem thus expresses his attachment to Egyptian and Arabic popular culture.
Hazem Shaheen taught the oud for five years at the Arabic Oud House before continuing to teach from 2005 until today at the very demanding Cairo Opera House. He brought out his first album, Al Aysh wal malh (Bread and salt) in 2006, recorded with his band Masar, and the second, Hagât wahshâny (Things that I miss), was released in 2009.
Translated by Simon Barnard
Available album : Liqaa