Photo by Adrian Natase

Issam Rafea, oud

Winner of the 2010 “Best Composer Award” in the Dubai International Film Festival (Muhr Arab) Issam Rafea is the Chair of the Arabic Music Department at High Institute of Music in Damascus and was the Principal Conductor of Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music from 2003–13. In Syria, Rafea has been an active composer and arranger for TV and theater since the 1990s.

In March of 2013 Rafea was invited to the United States to direct the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble at Northern Illinois University School of Music.

In the spring of 2017 Rafea was an Artist-in-Residence at Carleton College, MN where he met Gao Hong, a pipa master from China. Together they formed the Issam Rafea and Gao Hong Duo. In May of 2018 they released their debut CD, Life As Is: The Blending of Ancient Souls from Syria and China. They have performed at Carleton College, Saint Paul College, The Cedar Cultural Center, Inn-fest, and dozens of other performances throughout Minnesota. They were interviewed and featured on the MPR/NPR radio program All Things Considered, and on WCCO/CBS Radio’s Steele Talkin’ with host Jearlyn Steele. This newly formed duo also won a 2018 USArtists International Grant from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation in the United States.