Press Release


Shusmo Gets Mumtastic with Classical Arabic Funk

Shusmo is a secret passageway that winds past all the barriers dividing Arabic maqam from down-and-dirty funk, Latin spark, and swinging jazz. Headed by Palestinian pianist and buzuq player Tareq Abboushi, the quintet leads you to a little underground club where pensive classical forms meet dance floor-friendly vibes, where folk tunes open up into gritty jams. “Shusmo” roughly translates as “whatchamacallit” in Arabic, and, like its name, the group is hard to define.

But its aims are clear: a new genre of Arabic music. Mumtastic (June 23, 2011; at Joe’s Pub NYC)—a combination of “fantastic” and “mumtaz” (Arabic for “excellent!”)—gets grooves and a progressive acoustic spirit to shake up ancient microtonal modes and complex rhythms.

“What I’m working towards is an alternative Arabic music. Now, you’re either sitting listening to classical music or you’re dancing to pop in a club. And there’s too little in between,” Abboushi reflects. “We need something that works like Stevie Wonder, that has soul and musicality and that you can also move to.”

The combinations heard on Mumtastic were a long time coming for Abboushi, who grew up in the Palestinian town of Ramallah, listening to afternoons of piano, as taught by his mother, and to Arabic classical music, which flowed from every radio. Arabic classical greats, like the incomparable Egyptian singer Oum Kalthum, had hours devoted to them on the air every day. Abboushi recalls being able to hear a whole 40-minute-long piece simply by walking past stores and open windows on his way home; everybody was tuned in.

Drawing on this musical atmosphere, “Dal’Ona” wraps traditional wedding banter stuffed with local Palestinian slang in a twisting, irresistible bass line that nods to both James Brown and Fairouz. “Longa Nakreez,” based on a classical Turkish form, rocks, with a grungy buzuq and shredding clarinet (Greek player Lefteris Bournias) where the electric guitar should be. Tracks like “Georgina +2” launch on serious explorations of Arabic elements (the georgina-inspired rhythm or a bluesy Kurd mode), only to jump into a hip-swaying, Latin percussion-laced breakdown midway. The beats fly off the riq (Arabic tambourine) and the congas and timbales.

Abboushi, raised hearing plenty of Western classical music and classic rock, only started playing Arabic music as a young man at the conservatory in Ramallah, after seeing a fellow student playing the buzuq, a long-necked lute with moveable frets used throughout Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine in folk music. Yet it was while studying jazz piano performance several years later in the U.S. that Abboushi first got the urge to combine the seemingly divergent meters, tones, and driving forces behind Western and Middle Eastern music.

One challenge: Western music—from Beethoven to bebop to Black Sabbath—is powered by chords. Arabic music, however, is all about melody. “The answer is counterpoint,” explains Abboushi. “You can have harmony between different lines, but it’s not the harmonic progressions that move things forward. You’re just writing lines that weave together and create harmony between them. Melodies interact with each other dynamically and keep things rolling,” a fugue-like effect that shines on pieces like “The Time It Takes.”

While tackling rhythmic and melodic complexities, Shusmo and Abboushi have attempted to illustrate the fraught and complicated qualities of Palestinian life—both the quirky world of the exile and the confusing and heart-wrenching state of affairs back home.

“The Wall” is Abboushi’s attempt to come to musical terms with the contradictions and rage he saw around the barrier wall that now surrounds his home area. Neighbors are now separated by an insurmountable physical and political obstacle that chops communities and landscapes in two.

“It is easy to hate the wall that has been built by Israel imprisoning Palestinians and separating them from each other, their land, their schools, their work, and even their sunset. But when you see Palestinian workers taking part in the construction so they can support their families, what type of emotions will you have then? Or when you see Palestinian children laughing and enjoying their new slide created by the slanted roof of their home, which was demolished by the Israeli government, how can you express that mixture of emotions?” Abboushi reflects.

To get at this emotionally challenging place, Abboushi wove together several musical themes that had been floating around in his mind, creating a longer, pensive work that he’s currently turning into a multi-media project with the help of several artists.

Shusmo’s work points to greater currents sweeping across the Arab world. While on the political front, thoughtful and fed-up youth are taking on regimes across the Middle East and North Africa, there is a parallel cultural movement that extends across the arts. “This kind of creative expression was dormant for too long. But there’s an Arabic cultural scene that’s been on the rise on many levels, from stand up comedy to film to conceptual art.” Abboushi notes. “I'm very happy to see that such a creative cultural movement is growing and I'm proud that Shusmo is part of it.”

Group Bio

This progressive New-York-based band was formed by Palestinian musician Tareq Abboushi in the Fall of 2000. Since it's inception, SHUSMO has cultivated a unique identity by creating an innovative and original type of music utilizing a wide range of influences with Arabic music at its core.
What makes it stand out is how organically their versatile repertoire blends different genres. It is almost impossible to label the style, thus the name "SHUSMO" which in Arabic means "Whatchamacallit".

Shusmo has recorded music for the film “West Bank-Brooklyn,” and theme music for WBAI’s radio show “Fen Meshnoon with Dean and Maysoon.” Since releasing their first album “One” in February 2005, they have performed at a number of festivals including The Jerusalem Festival (Jerusalem, Palestine), Sounds of the City (New Jersey Performing Arts Center, USA), Atlantic Antic (New York, USA), NextNext Series and Brooklyn Maqam Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (New York, USA), Festival du Monde Arabe de Montreal (Canada), and at the Arab American National Museum (Michigan, USA). Other venues include Joe’s Pub, Queens Museum of Art, Columbia University, New York University, and Alwan for the Arts. The band has just completed their second album "Mumtastic," which was released in the Summer of 2011.

Individual Bios

Tareq Abboushi- Buzuq, Vocals, Percussion, Composer, Director

Abboushi graduated from William Paterson University with a B.M. in Jazz Piano Performance. He began playing the buzuq in1997, starting at the National Conservatory of Music in Palestine. Since his arrival to New York City, he has performed with such notable musicians as Simon Shaheen, David Brosa, Omar Farouk Tekbilek, and Grammy-Award-Winner Dan Zanes in the USA, Canada, the Middle East, and Europe. His teaching profile includes lecture demonstrations at Columbia University, NYU, Juilliard, and Agder University- Norway (2008-2009)among others. Abboushi's discography includes Amir ElSaffar's acclaimed "Two Rivers," and appearances on three albums with Dan Zanes: “Parades and Panoramas,” “House Party” and “Night Time!” (Winner of “Best children's CD of the year” by He composed and performed music for the award-winning film "Chicken Heads" (best short film, 2010 Dubai Film Festival). His participation in other film scores includes the award-winning soundtrack for the film “Encounter Point” (best musical score, 2006 Bend Film Festival), “Man From Plains” (2007) and the Oscar-nominated “Rachel Getting Married” (2008), the last two directed by Johnathan Demme.

Lefteris Bournias- Clarinet

The Greek born Bournias has been a clarinetist since the age of 11. Upon returning to New York with his family, he attended the Aaron Copeland School of Music earning a B.A. in Performance, and a Masters in Music Education. Bournias has performed and recorded with many highly acclaimed musicians amongst them Makis Hristodoulopoulos, Stelios Dionissiou, Peggy Zina, Pitsa Papadopoulou, Doukissa, The New York Pops, and Uri Cane, among others. His style combines traditional Greek, Gypsy, Classical, Turkish Gypsy, and elements of Jazz (rhythmical and harmonic). He plays with soulful fire and intensity making his sound undeniably unique, and making him one of the most sought after clarinetists in New York City.

Hector Morales- Drums, Congas, Cajon

A Peruvian drummer/percussionist, composer, and bandleader. Morales has played and studied Afro-Peruvian music with such masters of the style as Julio “Chocolate” Algendones, Marcos Campos and Carlos Hayre; he later studied Jazz at the prestigious William Paterson University Jazz Program in New Jersey, from where he graduated in 2003. Morales has performed on important stages of Perú, Chile and the U.S.A. such as the National Museum of Perú, GOETHE Institute, “Festival del Huaso” (Chile), “Society of Musicians and Composers of Chile Auditorium”, Barnes Institute, and Columbia University among others. He has also been featured in a video produced by LP (Latin Percussion) with the Afro-Peruvian group “Cambalache Negro.”

Dave Phillips- Bass

Phillips has established himself over the past 15 years as an invaluable collaborator capable of elevating just about any musical situation. He has released numerous CDs with his quartet Freedance, and toured extensively in the US and Europe. In his career as a freelancer he has played Broadway shows and recorded sessions with artists ranging from the Dixie Chicks to Richie Havens and Pink. Phillips explored his interest in music education through more than 60 concerts with the Lincoln Center Institute under direction of Wynton Marsalis and David Berger, while also doing education based performances for the Midori Foundation.

Zafer Tawil- Riq, Durbakkeh, Cymbals

An accomplished Palestinian musician based in New York City. He is a virtuoso on oud, violin, qanun, and is a master of Arabic percussion. He has performed with numerous musicians ranging from pop star Sting to Arab music virtuosos such as Simon Shaheen, Chab Mami, Bassam Saba, and George Ziadeh; to avant-garde composer/performer Elliot Sharpe, among many others. Tawil has held workshops on Arabic Music at many universities in the US and has also composed music for a number of films including Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-nominated “Rachel Getting Married”.

NPR’s Weekend Edition

(August 2011)
~ Listen here

Press Highlights

“Global notes: Eclectic New York outfit finds the funk in Arabic music”

WBEZ Chicago Public Radio review (July 2011)
~ Listen here

“Shusmo’s new cd Mumtastic is pure adrenaline - it’s one of the most exhilarating albums of recent years”

Lucid Culture, album review (June 2011)
~ Read here

“...funk and rock textures blend seamlessly with Arabic musical material in a fusion that avoids feeling forced or stale by pairing gritty production quality and stellar musicianship.”

Marlon Bishop, WNYC New York City’s Public Radio (June 2011)
~ Read here

“Shusmo perfectly embodies the message...: Arab culture is dynamic, it is imaginative, and it can fuse... with the other ethnic cultures that exist around it.”

Gal Beckerman, Downtonw Express (January 2004)

“This year, one of the highlights of the festival was Shusmo...”

“Abboushi... appears comfortable on stage and receives reassurances from the audience... as his nimble fingers fly across the string instrument he has mastered.”

“... by the end of the evening they (audience) are on their feet demanding an encore...”

Rachelle Kilger, The Media line (Jerusalem Festival- 2005)