Rivers of Sound play at the confluence of two musical traditions: jazz, and Iraqi Maqam. Amir Elsaffar, the founder of the group, grew up in Chicago, immersed in the jazz scene there (fun fact: while he is known as a trumpeter, his first instrument was the ukulele, followed by guitar, at age 9). While his father is an Iraqi immigrant, he did not grow up with the Maqam tradition, and began studying it as an adult; he learned to speak Arabic as he immersed himself in this musical and linguistic tradition. (Read more in this interview with the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design.)
Poet Zeina Hashem tells us more about the maqam tradition in her poem “Maqam”:
Where we come from, you and I,
maqam means home, means music; the Qur’an
can only be read as a song; a sheikh recites the Fatiha
as if he has built a house among the lines, the ayas.
You can listen to her read her award winning poem, plus a 10-minute conversation with Zeina Hashem and the editors of Poetry Magazine.