Sami Abu Shumays


Sami is an Arabic violinist, vocalist, and rababa player, co-founder and musical director of Zikrayat (, and a teacher and scholar of maqam and Arabic music. His field of expertise is in the Egyptian and Syrian music traditions, and Zikrayat highlights gems from the “Golden Age” of Egyptian Cinema, the 1930’s-60’s, presenting exciting dance numbers alongside classical Tarab repertory. He has taught hundreds of students, privately and in classes and lectures at Yale, the New School, Wesleyan University, The College of William and Mary, Alwan for the Arts, Lark Camp, and elsewhere. He has reached thousands more through unique online resources in maqam pedagogy he conceived and developed at:  Sami also works as an arts advocate and administrator; he is currently Deputy Director of Flushing Town Hall (, a multi-disciplinary arts presenter that serves the diverse communities of Queens, NY with music, dance, theater, puppetry, visual arts, film, and arts educational programs that celebrate the varied cultural backgrounds of the Borough.

Born in Pittsburgh, PA, Sami is a second-generation Palestinian-American immigrant, who studied Western classical music, piano, violin and composition as a boy, and as an undergraduate at Harvard University. As a senior, he took Virginia Danielson’s introductory class on traditional Middle-Eastern music, which re-introduced him to music he hadn’t heard since his youth, as well as to Simon Shaheen, who became his first teacher of Arabic violin and music theory. He studied with Simon for two years in New York City, while concurrently undertaking graduate studies in music composition, theory, and ethnomusicology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He was awarded a Fulbright fellowship in 2001-2, and travelled to Cairo, Egypt to study Arabic Music with Alfred Gamil, as well as the Arabic Language. He subsequently studied vocals and violin in Aleppo, Syria from 2002-3 with Mohamed Qasas, Abdel-Basit Bakkar and Abdel-Minaim Senkary. In the U.S. he has also studied with Youssef Kassab and Jihad Racy, and worked with other master musicians such as Wael Kakish, Faisal Zedan, Johnny Farraj, Zafer Tawil, George Ziadeh, Amir ElSaffar, Tareq Abboushi, and Sinan Erdemsel. With Zikrayat, founded in 2006, he has performed at Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Joe’s Pub, GlobalFEST, the American Folk Festival, the Lowell Folk Festival, the Global Film and Music Festival at William & Mary, Galapagos Art Space, Alwan for the Arts, and numerous other venues.

His scholarship on maqam draws on oral tradition and pedagogy to challenge conventional notions of music theory, and in addition to his website, he has written the following articles:

  • 2013. “Maqam Analysis: A Primer.Music Theory Spectrum XXXV/2
  • 2010. “The Female Performer as Tragic Hero: Feminism in Egyptian Film Musicals.” Third International Bellydance Conference of Canada. Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 2010. “ as an HTML-based Analysis of the Arabic Maqam System.” First Conference on Analytical Approaches to World Music. Amherst, MA
  • 2010. “The film Tamr Hinna, Egyptian Nationalism, and Musical Cinema in the 1950’s.” Invited Lecture, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA
  • 2009. “The Fuzzy Boundaries of Intonation in Maqam: Cognitive and Linguistic ApproachesAnnual Meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology. Mexico City, Mexico