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Issa Boulos

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Issa Boulos

Musical Artist

Issa Boulos Issa Boulos discography

Shams W Hawa (Sunny and Breezy), al-Hallaj, Little Composers, Being Peace

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Issa Boulos (born 1968) is a Palestinian-American Oud player, composer, lyricist, researcher and educator. Born in Jerusalem into a Christian family known for both music and literary traditions, his talent became evident at an early age, and was singing Arab classical maqam repertoire by age 7. He enrolled in the Institute of Fine Arts in Ramallah at age 13 and studied Oud with Abu Raw`hi 'Ibaidu.


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His musical activities started during the mid 1980s through acting as an arranger and performer with local folk and contemporary groups. In 1986, he released Al-‘Ashiq with Sareyyet Ramallah Troupe for Music and Dance, followed by Rasif Al-Madinah in 1989 with composer/singer Jamil Al-Sayih. By the early 1990s, Issa was exploring Western music's principals of composition and orchestration, of which he incorporated various aspects into his own music. Those early years witnessed the composition of over 200 instrumental and vocal pieces and one large-scale extended work entitled Kawkab Akhar (Another Planet).

Subsequently, he was appointed director of Birzeit University's musical group Sanabil, in addition to training Al-Funoun Popular Dance Troupe and Sareyyet Ramallah Troupe for Music and Dance.

In the 1980s and 1990s Boulos broadened his artistic perspectives by splitting his time between Ramallah and Chicago. Eventually, he settled in Chicago in 1994 and enrolled in the music composition program at Columbia College Chicago where he studied music composition with Gustavo Leone and Athanasios Zervas and followed that up in the graduate program at Roosevelt University with Robert Lombardo and Ilya Levinson. He founded the Issa Boulos Ensemble in 1998 while continuing to perform his original contemporary compositions that ranged from maqam compositions, chamber, orchestral, to jazz. After completing his Masters degree in 2000, Boulos spent one year in his hometown, where he continued to be an active composer, educator and 'udist. During that year, he took on the position of instructor of Western music theory and history, 'ud, chorus, ensemble and theory of Arab music at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, Ramallah[8]. It was during this time that he established the Little Composer program, an educational program that is delivered through the medium of music. It is based on contemporary approaches used to encourage children to work as a team and as part of a larger group and write their own lyrics and set them to music.

He has given workshops and lecture-demonstrations at several American and European institutes, most prominently, the University of Chicago, Yale, Michigan University and Oxford University. He continues to be invited throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East. Furthermore, he is often invited on radio shows such as Chicago’s WBEZ / National Public Radio[9,10] as an authoritative figure and consultant in Arab & Middle East music[11]. Other activities include, being the co-founder of Nawa Institute; leader of the al-Sharq Ensemble[12] & the Issa Boulos Ensemble[13]; member in Lingua Musica[14] and Nawa Ensemble[15]; and founder of the Arab Classical Music Society (ACMS)[16]. He reformed and directed the University of Chicago Middle East Music Ensemble for more than ten years until he was recruited in 2010 to head the Music Department at Qatar Music Academy in Doha, Qatar[18].

Boulos's portfolio includes traditional Arab compositions and arrangements, jazz, and film and theater scores, notably those for Lysistrata 2000, Catharsis and the PBS documentary film The New Americans[19], and Nice Bombs[20]. In most of his orchestral compositions, Boulos incorporates the melodic material of maqam and some of the instruments associated with it such as the ‘ud, buzuq, baglama, qanun, nay, Turkish clarinet, santoor, and traditional percussion instruments. It was upon these achievements that he was commissioned to write original orchestral works for various renowned orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra[21]. He is a recipient of many awards and fellowships including the 2006 and 2003 Artist Fellowship Award by the Illinois Arts Council, and the Norwegian Fund Award in 2006, the Palestinian Cultural Fund Award in 2006, the Arab Cultural Fund Award in 2010, and the A. J. Racy Fellowship for Ethnomusicological Music Studies in 2013.

Musical Works Highlights

  • 2010-2013 Streets 1, Streets 2, for orchestra, commission by the Palestine National Orchestra; performed in Syria, Palestine, Serbia, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Romania, Tunisia & Egypt.
  • 2008 A Jerusalemite Love Song, for voice and orchestra; performed by The Palestine-Berlin Youth Orchestra in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria & Egypt.
  • 2008 Raqs al-Janub, Manfa, for orchestra and qanun; performed by Euro Med Youth Orchestra in Syria, Palestine, Serbia, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Romania, Tunisia & Egypt.
  • 2007 Manfa and Longa, for orchestra and qanun; performed by The Palestine-Berlin Youth Orchestra.
  • 2006 Four orchestral pieces with mixed world music ensemble commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO); performed by the CSO in Chicago, & by other orchestras in Greece, Syria & Jordan.
  • 2005 Nice Bombs, original music for independent documentary.
  • 2003 New Americans, original music for PBS documentary.
  • 2000 Shortly After Life, for orchestra.
  • 2000 Tao, for violin & harp.
  • 1999 Samar, twenty jazz pieces for, ‘ud, tambourine, guitar and clarinet.
  • 1998 Sama, six pieces for string quartet & harp.
  • 1998 Pastiche, for chamber orchestra.
  • 1995 Naji, for piano and cello.
  • 1993 Another Planet, original instrumental compositions.
  • 1989 Side Street, original songs.
  • 1986 al-Ashiq, Palestinian folk songs.
  • Discography

  • 2011 Little Composers, arranged children songs. Nawa Records, Jerusalem.
  • 2010 Sunny and Breezy, original instrumental works. Nawa Records, Jerusalem.
  • 2009 Being Peace, original songs. Nawa Records, Chicago.
  • 2008 Meme Enchanted, arranged traditional songs for full ensemble. U of C, Chicago.
  • 2008 Al-‘Hallaj, eight original songs for mixed Ensemble. Nawa Records, Chicago.
  • 2007 Rif, original compositions for Turkish kemence. Nawa Records, Chicago.
  • 2003 One World, One Language, original composition for Lingua Musica, Chicago.
  • 1989 Side Street, original songs, Jerusalem.
  • 1986 Al-‘Ashiq, Palestinian folk.
  • Highlights of Recordings as Significant Ensemble Member

  • 2004 Boonie Ba-Boona, Assyrian Market Records, Chicago.
  • 2002 Il y a un pays Palestine, Musique du monde, France.
  • 2002 Ida y Vuelta. Flamenco, Sweet Pickle Music, Chicago.
  • 2002 Songs for Swinging Sophisticates, Jazz, Sideways Entertainment, Chicago.
  • Highlights of Radio & Television Appearances

  • 2013 WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio, Worldview[9].
  • 2010 BBC Oxford / interview and presentation.
  • 2009 BBC Oxford / interview and presentation.
  • 2009 Monte Carlo Paris / interview and presentation.
  • 2008 NPR, National Public Radio / interview and presentation.
  • 2007 WLUW, Loyola's Radio Station, with Peter Margasak / review.
  • 2007 WLUW, Loyola's Radio Station / Chicago World Music Festival.
  • 2006 WLUW, Loyola's Radio Station / Arab Heritage Month[23].
  • 2006 NPR, Prairie Home Companion (Garrison Keillor), interview and presentation[24].
  • 2006 WTTW, Metromix, interview / Chicago World Music Festival.
  • 2005 CBS, interview and presentation / Chicago Jazz Festival.
  • 2004 ABC Chicago Radio, interview and presentation / Love Songs of the World.
  • 2003 CLTV, Global Connections, Exploring the ‘Ud.
  • 2001 Monte Carlo Ramallah / interview and presentation.
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