Let the music play with Amir ElSaffar, the Two Rivers Ensemble and Hamid al-Saadi

Amir ElSaffar was born and raised near Chicago, but his heart and soul are informed as much by Iraq as by Illinois. A multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and composer, ElSaffar marvelously marries Middle Eastern musical traditions with American jazz. 

ElSaffar will make his Penn State debut April 4 in an Eisenhower Auditorium concert featuring his Two Rivers Ensemble and Iraqi vocalist Hamid Al-Saadi. 

Amir ElSaffar — trumpeter, santur (hammered dulcimer) player, vocalist, and composer — is a master of diverse sounds. The Chicago-area native has distinguished himself by combining Middle Eastern traditions with jazz and other styles of music. 

ElSaffar, who has a degree in classical trumpet from DePaul University, is fluent in the idiom of jazz, but he has also created techniques to play microtones and ornaments associated with Arabic music that are rarely heard on trumpet. 

Two Rivers Ensemble, a sextet, combines the musical languages and instrumentation of Iraqi maqam and contemporary jazz. The ensemble’s music speaks the vernacular of swing, improvisation, and group interaction. 

Through his powerful and highly ornamented voice, and in his comprehensive knowledge of the intricate details of the music and poetry of Iraq, generations and layers of the maqam tradition resonate through Hamid al-Saadi. 

He is one of the few vocalists who is keeping the art alive today, at a time when so many elements of the tradition are in danger of extinction.

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