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Medieval Music Man

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Hicham Chami was one of the last people critic Ted Shen interviewed for the Chicago Reader before he died unexpectedly last month. Chami, who was raised in Morocco, told Shen how he came to play the qanun, an Arabic instrument akin to a zither. "My father is a classical violinist, and my mother paints. They live for music. And they wanted their children to have a broad, cultivated upbringing." But violin or piano didn't seem right for the boy, who had a birth defect that left the fingers on his left hand stunted. Instead, Shen wrote, "his parents thought he might like playing the qanun. A plucked-string instrument that rests in the performer's lap, the qanun has a bright tone and a high pitch, traits that make it ideal for generating not only melodic lines but also embellishments." Chami began to train on the 81-string instrument at the National Conservatory of Music and Dance in Rabat when he was eight, and kept at it for ten years. But when it came time for college, he enrolled as a business major because his father thought he would need another profession to support his music. After earning a degree in marketing three years ago, he came to DePaul University for an MBA. Shen described how Chami continued to play his medieval instrument in Chicago, hooking up with locals like fiddler Stuart Rosenberg (who invited Chami to join his ensemble, Titiko), qanun player Eve Monzingo, and percussionists Catherine Alexander and Rich Jankowsky. He wrote about Mosaic, the small ensemble Chami and Monzingo formed earlier this year, and about Xauen, the music-production and management business he founded. Since March, when Shen's profile of Chami was published, Mosaic has grown to include ten musicians and is now called the Arabic Classical Ensemble of Chicago. Chami will receive his MBA in ten days and will likely prove his father wrong by going on for a PhD in musicology at Northwestern University. Chami and Jankowsky will play a selection of melodies from Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Syria on Monday, November 10, as part of the College of Lake County's National French Week concert. The evening also features Diamana Diya, a women's percussion ensemble playing music from Guinea. It starts at 7 in the C-wing audito-rium at the college, 19351 W. Washington in Grayslake. Tickets are $5; call 847-543-2300.

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