When we think of music in Las Vegas, many kinds of music come to mind: rock, jazz, soul, Broadway, standards, electronic. Music from the Middle East? Not so much.
But we DO have five musicians who call themselves the Arab Music Ensemble of Las Vegas.
The group's members are from several countries: Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, and the United States.
Bishr Hijazi, who was born in Kuwait, is one of those musicians. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that the style of music they play is more contemporary with a little of the classical mixed in.
“The way we like to portray the Arabic music is to get away from the old classic form that has been performed and perform it as close and as real as the Arabs are listening to these days,” he said.
He compared it to mixing Big Band with modern hip-hop.
However, they shy away from any electronics in their music and stick to traditional instruments and rhythms.
Hijazi had been playing solo for a while when he was introduced to Loraine Kaizer-Viazvotsev by the director of the Winchester Cultural Center.
Kaizer-Viazvotsev is from Illinois and plays violin. She actually works to eliminate any American influence when she plays with the ensemble.
"It's like learning another language," she said, "If you're studying French, Russian, Spanish, your goal is to speak without an American accent. So I'm trying to do the same thing. I'm trying to lose my accent as much as possible."
Kaizer-Viazvotsev is a professional musician. She plays with the philharmonic and substitutes at various shows on the Strip.
Hijazi on the other hand is a hand surgeon.
He said playing music is his way to escape.
"There is always a need for humanity. A need to look beyond just the mechanical and the routine way of looking at it” he said.
Hijazi is aware of the stigma that is attached to the Middle East right now and he hopes music will give people a new understanding of the beauty of the cultures of the region.
“People usually love to hear this," he said, "They love being introduced to this part of this culture rather than the ugliness on the other side that they get bombarded with on a daily basis.”
The group will be bringing that beauty and culture to Clark County schools. A grant from Clark County Cultural Arts Program and Chamber Music America will allow the ensemble to give 18 free concerts at county schools this year.
Bishr Hijazi and Laraine Kaizer-Viazvotsev, members of the Arab Music Ensemble of Las Vegas
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