Amir ElSaffar

Profile

Amir ElSaffar (1977, Chicago) was born to an Iraqi-American family. His father is a physicist and an immigrant from Iraq. After studying classical music at DePaul University in his hometown, ElSaffar applied himself to jazz and Arabic singing. As a trumpeter, he combines contemporary styles of jazz with elements from Arabic music, such as microtonal intervals and the ornamentation in that tradition. He has performed with renowned jazz musicians, such as Cecil Taylor, Marc Ribot, Henry Grimes and Vijay Iyer. Since visiting his father’s native country, he has devoted himself to preserving the musical heritage of the Iraqi maqam, a classical genre in which improvisation plays an important part. He performs this music as a singer and on a string instrument played with little hammers, the santur. He incorporates elements from Arabic traditions, jazz, and contemporary music in his compositions. In 2015, he founded the seventeen-person Rivers of Sound Orchestra in which musicians from widely diverse backgrounds play together. He also performed in the Netherlands with this group. In 2018, he composed Luminescencia for the Flamenco Biennale, in which Arabic and Flamenco styles came together.