Amir ElSaffar Profiled

Source: The National.

As well as being the overarching term for the plaintive, improvisational and melodic Arabic music that dates back to the 14th century, maqam also translates into English as “place”. Iraqi-American composer, jazz trumpeter and santur player Amir ElSaffar understands this dual meaning better than most. He grew up near Chicago and often listened to his father’s jazz LPs, developing a love of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald early on. ElSaffar’s mother also taught him to play American folk songs on a ukulele. And yet, by his mid 20s, ElSaffar was heading to Iraq to learn more about maqam, mere months before the Iraq War.