Advisory Board


Marcel Khalife – Honorary Chair

Mr. Khalife is an internationally acclaimed Lebanese composer, oud master, and singer. Born in Amicht, Lebanon in 1950, Khalife began his music career studying the oud at the National Academy of Music in Beirut. He garnered attention early in his career in the Middle East and abroad for shining light on the oud as a solo performance instrument. In 1976, he formed the Al Mayadeen Ensemble and began to experiment synthesizing Arabic classical modes with contemporary Western instrumentation, and integrating poetry in his musical repertoire. Khalife is distinguished by his dedication to the ideals of humanism and music’s ability to impart these ideals. This humanism has been a driving force of his music, which crosses the barriers of nationalism, religion, and culture. Moreover, Khalife’s music has the ability to give voice to those who have none. As he notes: “Nothing justifies our art other than to speak for those who cannot speak. This is the cause for which we dedicated our efforts, and the cause that endorsed our voices. We only wished to take it as far as we can, and vowed to release our work as songs of love for, and unity with, the victims of persecution everywhere.” In 2005, Khalife was named UNESCO Artist for Peace for his achievements as an artist and humanitarian. In 2008, he was named the music director and resident composer of the newly formed Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. Al-Bustan was pleased to host Marcel Khalife on March 13, 2011 in a concert honoring his work and longstanding contributions globally and in the Arab world; and in April 2013 in celebration of Al-Bustan’s 10th Anniversary Gala.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Ms. Nye is an acclaimed Palestinian-American poet, novelist, teacher and anthologist. A self-described “wandering poet,” Ms. Nye has spent more than thirty years traveling across America and around the world, leading writing workshops that inspire children and adults alike. Born in the U.S. to a Palestinian father and American mother, her writings reflect the intricacies of living as a product of two worlds. Throughout the twenty volumes that she has written or edited for readers of all ages, Ms. Nye’s work emphasizes her desire to build bridges for peace in the midst of dissonance and diversity. Her poetry and prose, which places special emphasis on the nuances of the “ordinary,” has been featured on National Public Radio, PBS, and literary magazines across the country. Ms. Nye has been recognized as a Guggenheim Fellow, a Witter Bynner Fellow at Library of Congress, and a visiting professor of creative writing at universities across the U.S. She has received numerous coveted poetry prizes in praise of her writing. Most notably, in 2001, her work garnered national attention when a book of poems, 19 Varieties of Gazelle, was named as a finalist for the prestigious National Book Award. Ms. Nye was a visiting poet with Al-Bustan in February 2009.

Sonia M’Barek

Born in Sfax, Tunisia, Ms. M’barek first performed to a live audience at the age of nine and was nationally recognized on TV in Tunis when she was twelve. Attending the national conservatory of music in Tunis, she graduated with a degree in Arab music in 1986. After her degree, she spent most of her time singing in musical theater productions such as Asker Ellil, Ete 61, and Didon, as well as the sound tracks for the film The Dance of Fire. Working with Tunisian oud players, she has presented more than thirty concerts of classical Arab music in a performance tour called Tarab. In 1999, after recording Takht, a CD which was widely distributed in Europe, the United States, and Japan, M’Barek became internationally recognized and began teaching and participating in global conferences, workshops, and master classes showcasing her keen ability with Arabic singing. In 2005, she was nominated by the Ministry of Culture in Tunisia to serve as the chair of the National Festival of Tunisian Music. She has performed in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Egypt, and Lebanon, including a tour in 2009 with Simon Shaheen at the Kennedy Center’s Arabesque Festival in Washington DC and other cities in the US. M’Barek performed in 2012 in Philadelphia and New York City as part of Al-Bustan’s Arab Music Concert Series, and returned in 2013 to New York City and Washington DC to perform with Al-Bustan’s Resident Takht Ensemble.

Nathalie Handal

Ms. Handal is an award-winning poet, playwright, and writer. She has lived in Europe, the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Arab world. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and publications, including Ploughshares, Crab Orchard Review, and The Literary Review; and has been translated into more than fifteen languages. She was named an honored finalist for the 2009 Gift of Freedom Award. She has also been involved either as a writer, director or producer in over twenty theatrical and/or film productions worldwide. Handal is the editor of The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, winner of the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award, and coeditor of Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond. Her poetry collections include, The NeverField, The Lives of Rain, and most recently, Love and Strange Horses (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010). Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Kumunyakaa writes: “This cosmopolitan voice belongs to the human family, and it luxuriates in crossing necessary borders.” Al-Bustan hosted Handal in Fall 2010 for a poetry residency at Northeast High School and in Spring 2010 for a poetry reading.

A.J. Racy

Dr. Racy is a performer, composer and Professor of Ethnomusicology at UCLA. Born in Lebanon, Racy is internationally recognized for his extraordinary musicianship and his numerous publications, including his award-winning book, Making Music in the Arab World: The Culture and Artistry of Tarab (Cambridge University Press, 2003). He is a master of many traditional instruments particularly the nay, a reed-flute, and the buzuq, a long-necked fretted lute. He has appeared in major U.S. theaters, such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the Hollywood Bowl and at international venues, including the Beiteddine Festival in Lebanon and the Commonwealth Institute in London. He has composed and performed for the Kronos Quartet and the Sacramento Symphony Orchestra, as well as for feature and documentary films. His CD releases include three Lyrichord albums, Ancient Egypt, Taqasim, and Mystical Legacies, and Caravan with Kronos Quartet. Racy has inspired a generation of Western and Arab musicians to study and perform Middle Eastern musical traditions. Dr. Racy is the recipient of numerous honors and tributes from a variety of cultural institutions for his outstanding artistry and his continuous work toward greater intercultural understanding and cooperation. He was hosted in Fall 2011 for two concerts in Al-Bustan’s Arab Music Concert Series.

Thea Abu El-Haj

Dr. Abu El-Haj, a Palestinian-American, is an educational researcher and teacher educator. She began her career in the field of education developing cross-cultural curriculum and then working as an elementary school teacher for many years. Since receiving her doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania in the anthropology of education, she has been researching, writing and teaching about socio-cultural processes and education. She is a faculty member at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. One of her current areas of research is the ethnography of Arab-American youth focusing on the needs of the Arab American community and the importance of educational programs in developing youth leadership. Her two daughters, ages 18 and 13 years, have been participants in Al-Bustan programs.