Artist biographies


Amir ElSaffar; Santoor, Lead Vocals

Amir ElSaffar was born in 1977 near Chicago , Illinois to an Iraqi immigrant father and an American mother. From a young age, Amir was exposed to a wide array of cultural influences that have affected him throughout his musical career. Indeed, few musicians his age have had experiences in as many diverse genres of music as Amir has. As a Classical and Jazz trumpeter, he has performed with Daniel Barenboim and Cecil Taylor and has won much acclaim as well as 2 international trumpet competitions. But in 2001, Amir began to delve into a completely different musical tradition, that of his ancestral past, the Iraqi Maqam. This Classical music form, which has few surviving masters, is one of the most sophisticated and complex traditional music forms of the Middle East . In 2002, Amir set out on a journey that took him to Iraq as well as several other countries throughout the Middle East and Europe , where he encountered masters of the Iraqi Maqam, such as Hamid al-Saadi, Baher al-Rajab, and Farida Mohammed Ali and her ensemble, as well as masters of various other Middle Eastern musical styles. From these teachers, Amir learned to sing the Maqam and to play the santoor, a hammered-dulcimer that is native to Iraq , and has now mastered a significant portion of the repertoire. Since 2004, he has performed solo and with his ensemble in major cities throughout the world, including New York , Boston , Chicago , Minneapolis , Montreal , Cairo , Beirut , and London . Hamid al-Saadi, Amir’s teacher, who is one of the leading Maqam singers in Iraq, regards Amir as one of the important carriers of this tradition in his generation, and has said “Amir is a great addition to the Maqam…he is preserving the true essence of this music.”


Dena El Saffar; Violin, Joza, Vocals

Dena El Saffar, of Iraqi and American heritage, was exposed to Arabic music in the suburbs of Chicago , where she grew up attending Iraqi gatherings with her family. She began learning the violin at the age of six. At age 17, completely engaged in classical music, she accompanied her father to Baghdad and became enchanted by the music of Iraq and the Middle East . In 1993, while obtaining a classical music degree from Indiana University , she founded the group Salaam, a Middle Eastern music ensemble which has performed throughout the United States . She has studied with Hamid Al-Saadi, Munis Sharifov, Mohammed Gomar and Anwar Abudragh,  and has performed with the Master Musicians of Jajouka and Youssou N’dour. Dena, who plays the viola, violin, joza and kemanche, has also performed with Central Eurasian ensembles, salsa groups, bluegrass, blues and rock bands.  She is the older sister of Amir, is married to percussionist Tim Moore, and is the mother of two: Jamil and Layla.



Tim Moore; Percussion, Vocals

Tim Moore grew up in the Midwest , and began playing drums at the age of 12.  A natural percussionist, he began performing with different groups early on, gaining experience in a variety of genres including jazz, blues, salsa and rock. After earning a computer science degree from Indiana University in 1989, he worked on the East and West Coasts as a computer programmer, but in 1993 he left that world in order to devote himself to music.  In his quest to become a better, even more diverse musician, he began learning rhythms and instruments from around the world, eventually bringing his focus to Middle Eastern percussion.   He has studied Iraqi-style percussion with Wessam Ayoub, Sattar al Saadi and Lateef al ‘Abeedi.  Tim plays the dumbek, riqq, naqqarat and bendir, tabl and zanbur as well as drum set and guitar.

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