Negin Almassi (voice and violin) was born in Chicago and raised in Milwaukee, where the soundtrack to her childhood was her father singing classical Persian music. She has studied theory of the Iranian dastgah system with renowned master musician and ney player Ostad Hossein Omoumi. She also learned Persian violin and kamancheh from the talented multi-instrumentalist Bobak Salehi. Negin’s strength is singing Persian folk music, and she performed as a part of Ghoghnoos Ensemble (now Shalizar Ensemble) in the Chicago Nowruz Parade in 2014. Negin is thankful for all the beautiful experiences she has had as a member of the University of Chicago Middle East Music Ensemble since 2010 and Chicago’s Shalizar Ensemble.
Ramin Takloo-Bighash (voice and tombak), a native of south Iran, has been living in the Chicago area since 2007. Over the years he has received training and instruction from his father who introduced him to the Iranian traditional music at an early age, from Ahmad Borhani (voice and tombak) and from Erfan Sharifpour (voice). Other than his involvement with Shalizar, he has been performing with the University of Chicago’s Middle East Music Ensemble since 2008, working under the directorship of renowned Palestinian musicians Issa Boulos and Wanees Zarour.
Kathleen Cantone (doira and daf) wants everyone to feel free to explore the world around them through rhythm and movement. Kat plays doira, daf and frame drums as a member of the Middle East Music Ensemble of the University of Chicago, and various percussion instruments with Ensemble Shalizar. Kat has studied percussion with Turkish musician Işık Acet, Ronnie Malley, Wanees Zarour, Michael Zerang, and Vahi Zarkarian. Kat specializes in teaching dance and cultural activities to adults and children. She has a varied repertoire of folk and classical styles which include dances from Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Turkey. Kat is also an independent researcher and a member of the Society of Dance History Scholars.
Eli Suzukovich III (setar, oud, dutar), was born and raised in Chicago and plays the Persian setar, shourangiz, Uyghur dutar, and oud. He has been playing and studying Persian and Balkan music since 2003. He taught himself how to play the setar and Uyghur dutar, with informal setar instruction from Kazem Davoudian and Mohammad Fahti. Eli was first introduced to maqam theory by Jeffery Werbock (Azeri tar, oud, kamancheh) and Mahmud Salah (voice and doira) during their visit to Missoula, Montana, where he attended graduate school. He received formal training on oud and maqam theory from Ronnie Malley, Majed Ajameyeh, and Wanees Zarour. Along with the Shalizar Ensemble, Eli has been a member of the University of Chicago’s Middle East Music Ensemble since 2014, and is also part of QannOud.
Tahra Eissa (qanun) was born and raised in the Chicago land area to an Armenian-Egyptian family. Having studied Western-style music since childhood (piano, flute, voice), she chose to rediscover her culture through music by picking up the qanun in 2010 as a member of the Cornell Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Music Ensemble (CMEMME). Since then she has continued her studies of Middle Eastern music through various musical groups, such as the University of Chicago’s Middle East Music Ensemble, Shalizar and QannOud, as well as through mentorship from esteemed musicians, including Simon Shaheen, A.J. Racy, and Wanees Zarour.
Sam Hyson (violin) grew up in Tallahassee, Florida and studied Environmental Studies in Asheville, North Carolina before moving to Chicago to pursue artistic interests in 2013. He has traveled extensively performing in restaurants, playing a wide range of traditional styles. Sam performs in the world music violin duo Compass Rose, co-organizes the Chicago Folklore Ensemble with Lucia Thomas, and studies traditional Serbian music with Chicago violinist Jovan Mihailović. He first played with members of Shalizar Ensemble in the Middle East Music Ensemble at the University of Chicago.