Acclaim and Recommendations The Performers Select Performances

The Performers

  Souhail Kaspar, Founder and Director
Lead Percussionist

Grammy®-nominated master percussionist Souhail Kaspar is known worldwide for his brilliant technique, exciting performances and teaching skills. A true virtuoso, his ability to improvise and embellish the rhythmic patterns of Arabic music, as well as his knowledge of ethnic musical history make him one of the most highly acclaimed performers and instructors of our day.

Mr. Kaspar has worked with legendary Egyptian composers Farid al-Atrash, Sayyad Makowi and Hanni Mehanna. He has traveled extensively during his career and has performed with artists John Bilezikjian, Kenny Burrell, Omar Faruk, Shujaat Khan, Kronos Quartet, Cheb Mami, Dr. Scott Marcus, Roberto Miranda, Tito Puente, Dr. Ali Jihad Racy, The Sacramento Symphony Orchestra, Kathem al-Saher, Simon Shaheen, Sting, Strunz & Farah, Wadi al-Safi and many others. He has also performed for dignitaries such as President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and the Dalai Lama.

He has recorded for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, appears in a video feature at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, and has recorded for many feature film soundtracks.

Educational recordings include the CD Awzan: Arabic Rhythmic Modes and the DVD series Souhail Kaspar: Master Class at Home, which features instruction for dancers and drummers.

In addition to performing and recording internationally, Mr. Kaspar teaches percussion and dance theory and coaches professional musicians and dancers in the traditions of Arabic performance.

  Afif Taian, Musical Director

Born in Fairouzah Homs, Syria, virtuoso oudist Afif Taian graduated from The Institute of Music in Homs, Syria at the age of 19, quickly becoming known for his brilliant takasims (solo melodic improvisations).

In 1995, Mr. Taian immigrated to the United States and has since toured and performed with artists from around the globe, including Gorillaz, the Persian singer Mamak Khadem, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Hasan Isakkut, Syrian superstars Shadi Gameel, Aboud Bashir, and Shahd Barmada, and the famous Aleppo group Salteen Al Tarab.

His performances include concerts with Souhail Kaspar at the Shangri La in Honolulu, the UCSB Middle East Ensemble with Dr. Scott Marcus, and Kan Zaman of Los Angeles at the Getty Museum. He has also appeared at The World Sacred Music Festival and on public television.

In addition, Mr. Taian is a featured instructor and performer at Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp in Mendocino, CA. His music can be heard on his CD Sunset, Shams el-Ghoroub and on the DVD Rhythm and Movement for Raqs al-Sharqi with Souhail Kaspar.

  Henry Azra, Qanun

Henry Azra is a Los Angeles-based classical Moroccan musician. Born into a musical family, he has been recording professionally since the 1980s.

He has performed with Ragheb Alama, George Wassouf, the Iranian star Heidi, Wadih El Safi, Sabah, Sayed Mekawy, and many others.

  Rick Brandt, Cello

Rick Brandt has played cello for 29 years.  He tours internationally and is also a professional recording session player.  He has performed from the clubs of the Sunset Strip to Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Mr. Brandt learned Arabic rhythms and maqamat while studying with Souhail Kaspar and Afif Taian.

  Victoria Carter, Percussion

Victoria Carter has studied classical/folkloric Arabic percussion and dance theory with Souhail Kaspar,and he has certified her as an instructor of Arabic percussion.

She has been a co-teacher for his Egyptian Rhythm & Movement for Raqs al-Sharqi workshops throughout the United States.

  Adel Eskandar, Violin

Adel Eskander is one of the finest violin players in the Middle East. After graduating from the Cairo Music Academy, he performed with Elmasia Orchestra, directed by Ahmed Fouad Hassan and Hany Mohanna.

He has accompanied many famous Arab singers, and also toured with Led Zeppelin.

  Fadel Gad, Ney

Born in Memphis, Egypt, Fadel Gad learned the ney when he was ten years old. He later studied with Dr. Kadry Srour, Professor of Ney at Helwan University, in addition to studying Ancient Egyptian and Islamic Art and Archaeology at Cairo University. He performed with the UCLA Ensemble for 15 years.

  Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez, Violin

Michelle J. Gonzalez has been performing with the SK Near East Ensemble since 2009 and has recently begun studying Arabic singing with Ustez Souhail Kaspar.

Aside from performing as a vocalist and violinist with the group, she also performs as a bellydancer for the Tigrana International Dance Company.

  Majdi Kurd, Percussion

Born in Jerusalem, Majdi Kurd performs a wide range of Arabic music on Egyptian tabla, frame drum, and riqq.

He began studying with Souhail Kaspar in 2004, and has since performed with master musicians Omar Faruk Tekbilek and Dr. Jihad Racy. He also plays drum solos for Middle East dance events.

  Jeff Roy, Violin

Jeff Roy is a violinist of the Near Eastern, Indian, and Western classical musical traditions.

He recently earned his MA in Ethnomusicology at UCLA, where he worked with the notable composer/musician and professor A.J. Racy on several projects.


  Gorkem Somer, Percussion

Born in Istanbul, Gorkem Somer performs music from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. A lifelong percussionist, he began studying with Souhail Kaspar in 2006.

In addition to being an accomplished classical performer, he is also renowned in the belly dance community for his drum solo skills.


Robert Tanielian, Electric Guitar


Robert Tanielian was born in Jounieh, Lebanon.  He began playing electric guitar in 1986, and performed with numerous Arabic bands, singers, and dancers throughout Lebanon from 1989 to 2000 at festivals and nightclubs.  He currently lives in Studio City, CA. 


  Sachiyo Yoshimoto, Violin

Sachi Yoshimoto began her Arabic music studies at UCLA Near Eastern Ensemble & the Arabic Music Retreat, Mt. Holyoke College.

In 2010 she had the privilege of performing in Egypt with UCSB Middle East Ensemble. She performs regularly with the SK Near East Ensemble & The New York Arabic Orchestra.


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