Riad Abdel-Gawad

About Dr. Abdel-Gawad

Riad Abdel-Gawad is an American-raised and an Egyptian-born composer and violinist. Founder and Executive Director of Midan Elmusica (The Music Square), this organization exhibits to and informs the US public about “musiqa al-arabiyya” (Arab peoples’ music) from Egypt. Dr. Abdel-Gawad earned a PhD in music composition from Harvard University. He also studied with — expatriate American composer — Frederic Rzewski at the Liége Conservatory of Music. He further maintained and progressed, by teaching, performing and earning his living as a street musician in France, Germany and Belgium. Honing his violin performing acumen, Riad — as a street musician — was able to cultivate his musical art in public at the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert in Brussels.

Dr. Riad traveled to African nations, including to the southeast of Cameroon in 2006, into the Equatorial Rain Forest, to perform in the 1st Story-Telling Festival in the village, Oyup; he also attended an atilier for composers from all over Africa in the Congo (DRC) in 2005. Additionally, his composition, Longa Nahawand, was published in Oxford University Press: Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora. As well, he performed in international music festivals in Africa, Europe and the US, including at the Chicago World Music Festival. He also taught and shared with musicians in courses, musical training, and workshops for the practice, study and mastery arguably of one of the greatest living Sufi Egyptian musical masters of the maqamat: Abdo Dagher. These included for instances: the Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange; the German National Music Schools in (East) Berlin and Hanover; Harvard University, Los Angeles Mission College, the Children’s World Academy in Montreal and the American Universities in Cairo and Beirut.

As an Artist Fellow at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Dr. Riad utilized his fellowship to invite Mr. Dagher and Mr. Roman Bunka, German composer and musician, to give for one of the first times, a 5-day Arabische Musik (Arabic Music) workshop and performance with German musicians and for audiences. Dr. Riad lived in the densely populated Hadayek El Qobba district in Cairo, nearby Mr. Dagher’s home and music salon. As a researcher, Dr. Riad logged an ‘oral’ and ‘aural’ diary about this uniquely Egyptian Arabic traditional style of playing the violin. Dagher had already taught generations of musicians in his music salon in the oral/aural manner of pedagogy. Although Egyptian musicians had already been notating Mr. Dagher’s music for decades, Dr. Riad wished to dig deep into the profundity and complexity of Mr. Dagher’s musical method. So, Dr. Riad set out to notate dozens of exercises and compositions from live sessions and recordings of Dagher’s inimitable, violin playing-style. Some of these musical exercises, which Dr. Riad transcribed, circulated amongst some professional musicians, who found them useful. For example, one professional musician in Cairo expressed to Dr. Riad, that although they loved attending Mr. Dagher’s saharaat (evening, musical sessions), however, due to their numerous music studio jobs in Cairo, this precluded them to visiting as often as they truly wished. Having a score at home, he said, “..Was like having Ustaz Abdo in the room with me”. In fact, Dr. Riad is deeply indebted to numerous professional Cairene musicians and chanters whose suggestions, for notation and performance helped notate and perform this musical method. Additionally, Dr. Riad received funding from the Netherlands Embassy in Cairo to create an “alternative”, “Music Salon School”. Through this funding, Mr. Dagher and Dr. Riad sustained their teaching program, which helped numerous young intermediate-level Egyptians practice their traditional Arabic music instruments: the kaman (violin), the nay (bamboo flute), the qanun (wood-framed trapezoidal zither), the oud (lute) and the riqq, duff and tabla (percussion instruments). As well, the Music Salon School received funding to handcraft such endangered folk instruments as the rababa, the mizmar and the urghul. Dr. Riad collaborated to create the publication by International Opus: The New Sufi Egyptian Art Music by Abdo Dagher. Riad, thus was honored to contribute to disseminating a new, living devotional music school from the people of Arab lands of Egypt. Egyptian Ethnomusicologist Professor, Dr. Isaam El Malah, to Dr. Riad about Abdo Dagher: “Mr. Dagher is a living and breathing embodiment of the Middle Ages’ Musical Masters”. Dagher’s salon has attracted for generations professional musicians, aficionados, and visitors from all over the world to hear his musical exercises, compositions and improvisations. Dagher — an octogenarian composer and violinist — accompanied one of the most celebrated, beloved, and femme célèbre singer of the Arab world: Oum Kalsoum.

Riad Abdel-Gawad’s full-length commercial albums — are distributed by City Hall Records. He provided his music for Democracy Now!, one of the most renowned independent news media outlets in the globe. Abdel-Gawad was commissioned by the New Music Ensemble of Liège for the Ars Musica Festival in Belgium. Dr. Riad was also commissioned by Barclays Wealth in collaboration with the European Stradivari Society to practice and perform on Stradivari and Guarneri violins at the Islamic Museum of Qatar.

Words of Peace
Egypt: Mother of the World
El Tarab El Aseel