Hicham Chami was born in Tetuan, Morocco in 1977. He started playing qanun at the age of eight, when he enrolled in a qanun class at the National Conservatory of Music and Dance in Rabat. The class was taught by Abdelkebir El Haddad, Qanunji of the Royal Orchestra in Morocco. Hicham studied at the National Conservatory for four years, playing solo each year for the graduation day of the Conservatory and performing in the Conservatory’s Oriental Ensemble.
Hicham’s second teacher was Hassan Amhaouch, soloist with the orchestra of Moroccan Radio and Television Broadcasting. However, the most influential person in the academic musical sphere was doubtlessly P. Mohamed Belkhayat, a Moroccan composer and oud teacher, who influenced Hicham during his intensive weekly private lessons.
Hicham was instructed in Arabic maqams (scales) and also in the very specific beauty of Moroccan classical music, quite different from Middle Eastern or Persian Music. His study at the Conservatory ended with graduation from the Class of Qanun, and the award of both the First Prize and the Diploma of Honor, with the distinction of, respectively, High Honors and Honors.
In Morocco, Hicham took part in several concerts and festivals, the most important being “Le Festival des Oudayas”, annually organized by the French Cultural Institute; and the “Festival of Plucked Strings”, sponsored by renowned Moroccan-Canadian artist and guitar player Said Laghzaoui, during which Hichammy performed with Ahmet Meter, the Turkish qanun maestro and soloist with the National Turkish Orchestra.
Along with Hicham’s regular participation with the Oriental Music Orchestra of the Conservatory, he was an active member of the Quintet of Arabic Music, under the auspices of the Moroccan Ministry of Cultural Affairs, and Trio Shahnaz.
IN THE U.S.
At age 22, Hicham moved to the United States to pursue his academic education (following his bachelor’s degree in Marketing from ISCAE, a Moroccan Business school) at DePaul University’s Kellstadt School of Business in Chicago.
In the realm of music, he started performing with Taqaseem, a new Chicago ensemble. But his breakpoint came when he attended Simon Shaheen’s Arabic Music Retreat at Mount Holyoke College during the summer of 2001. Hicham studied with Jamal Sinno on qanun and performed with Najib Shaheen’s ensemble. During the retreat, Hicham connected with several musicians who would be his major collaborators for the next three years: Beth Borgerhoff and Al Sharvarsh Bardezbanian of Maine; Yoel Ben-Simhon of New York City; and Neal Clarke of Oklahoma. Dozens of concerts and recording sessions had their genesis at the 2001 retreat.
Back in Chicago, Hicham first started working with Issa Boulos, a Palestinian composer, in his Al-Sharq Ensemble. The repertoire was mainly composed of Middle-Eastern folk and classical music, along with original compositions by Boulos. Chicago’s diversity also offered him the opportunity to perform Jewish music with the TiTiko Ensemble and its acclaimed cantor, Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi as well as prominent musicians such as pianist Howard Levy, Indian drummer Kalyan Pathak, and Mandolin player Stuart Rosenberg.
In the summer of 2002, Hicham started Xauen Music, Inc. with Cindy Infantino, a librarian who had lived in the Middle East and shared his passion for the music. One of Xauen’s first activities was to begin scanning and cataloging a comprehensive database of traditional Oriental scores. HIcham began a fruitful collaboration with Genesis at the Crossroads, a Chicago-based arts organization dedicated to “unity through the arts” among Arab, Jewish, and Persian cultures. Chicago Magazine named Hicham “Best Exotic Instrumentalist” for 2002; he was featured in an Al Jadid article; and he made his first studio recording with percussionist Catherine Alexander, “Promises: Oriental Classical Music.”
Hicham started a new ensemble in January 2003, Mosaic; this ensemble brought together musicians from diverse backgrounds, including classical and Klezmer. Hicham performed at a major Genesis at the Crossroads event in the spring, held at the Chicago Cultural Center. Xauen Music launched Tarab, a new magazine (the only one of its kind) exclusively devoted to classical Arabic, Sephardic, Turkish, and Armenian music. Tarab is sent to more than 15 countries around the world.
At the retreat, Hicham connected with flutist Kim Sopata and began a partnership that continues to the present. Hicham and Kim were invited to perform for Queen Rania of Jordan at the ADC gathering in Dearborn, Michigan in November. Along with percussionist Rich Jankowsky, they were part of the “Iberian Mystics” program held at Georgetown University in December.
Hicham and Rich performed for the Seattle Arab Festival; Mosaic was part of the City of Chicago’s “Miles of Music” festival, and Hicham’s new ARABESQUE MUSIC Ensemble performed at the Oriental Institute for their inaugural concert. Hicham and Xauen Music reached into the school community by participating in the Urban Gateways program. All these efforts were noted by acclaimed music critic Ted Shen in an article for the Chicago Reader.
“Promises” was re-released by Multicultural Media in 2004. Hicham performed with Trio Mizan for Genesis at the Crossroads and with Kim Sopata for the opening of Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. Hicham gathered ten prominent musicians from around the U.S. for a studio recording of the songs of Sayyed Darweesh. Xauen Music produced a concert featuring Algerian singer Souad Massi in her debut U.S. tour, and Hicham started his weekly “Arabesque” radio on WHPK. Hicham, along with Kim and Karim Nagi Mohammed, performed for the Executive Staff at the White House in the summer. Xauen Music and Genesis at the Crossroads produced a four-city tour of a Moroccan Andalusian orchestra, including musicians brought from Morocco and Israel. Hicham was filmed for “New Morning” segment on the Hallmark Channel.
ON THE HORIZON
The Sayyed Darweesh CD is scheduled for release in January 2005. Xauen Music is planning a five-day music education program in March, featuring instruction by “rising stars” in the Middle Eastern music world. Chicago composer Robert Kritz is working with Hicham on a commissioned work, “Diaspora Dances,” which will be performed with Concertante di Chicago in May.