“A cultural Renaissance is happening and I feel I have a part in it” - Meet Arab Palestinian Violinst Shaden Nahra
Words: Bethany Burgoyne
Photography: Yasmine Omari
Arab Palestinian musician Shaden Nahra has travelled around the globe performing with multiple Orchestras, hip-hop crews and fresh new bands from the Haifa scene. Describing himself as a cross-genre violinist and songwriter, Shaden’s back catalogue reflects the unique mixture of sounds and styles this talented musician plays with.
It was as a young, 7-year-old boy that Shaden was first acquainted with the instrument, witnessing a teacher playing tradition Arabic music on the violin. Persuading his mother to let him learn, Shaden performed solely classical music until the age of 18, when he joined the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel-Aviv University. It was at this point that his approach to music changed. "Classical music was never quite enough for me. I started looking at what was beyond the classical world and discovered improvising; it set me free. I'm a jazz head on the inside".
After completely his studies, Shaden worked as a music teacher but didn’t feel it was the right path for him. On deciding to quit his job, Shaden booked a trip to Europe which resulted in being the best decision he could have made, “Not being in an institution and creating your own work is not easy but it’s necessary.”
Meeting other musicians and gigging around the UK and Germany was followed by Shaden networking with fellow musicians back home in Haifa. Now a prominent part of the Palestinian Music scene that runs throughout multiple countries, Shaden’s career has seen him tour with renowned HipHop group DAM as well as Berlin based singer and performance artist Rasha Nahas and Jazz singer Ruba Shamshoum.
Learning from different cultures is an essential part of Shaden's identity when describing himself as a cross genre musician. “The violin is an important instrument in so many traditions - Western, Eastern, Indian, Gypsy, Folk, Irish, American County music. I think it would be dumb to play it in only one way. My ultimate goal is to master as many genres of music on the violin as possible".
It is in this way that Shaden pushes the boundaries of what people expect from a violinist. His most recent solo work shows him playing the violin whilst chopping (a style using the bow to create a “chack” sound) and speaking over the top. Ironically, this style evolved from picking up a guitar, "I’ve been writing texts all my life but learning the guitar helped me put melody and harmony to the words. Then I realised I could do the same thing but with my violin." Almost by accident, a new style started to develop.
Claiming that his music would not be at the point it is today if he had not travelled so much, choosing to stay in Haifa has been a conscious decision. Despite political situations making it a difficult existence, Shaden explains, "I am connected to this land, this water, this air. I belong to this land even if I don't belong to this country. When I go to Europe, I don't feel it is home in the same way". With multiple musicians and artists from Haifa becoming recognised globally due to initiatives such as Palestine Music Expo and a recent Boiler Room Documentary , Shaden explains how it is an exciting place to be. "There is something going on here and you can't ignore it. A cultural Renaissance is happening and I feel I have a part in it".
Follow Shaden Nahra on Instagram @shadenahra
Photography: Yasmine Omari