Issam Rafea and Gao Hong: Life As Is

Issam Rafea and Gao Hong: Life As Is

The Blending of Ancient Souls from China and Syria
Issam Rafea
Gao Hong
Issam Rafea
Gao Hong
Catalog Number: 
Middle Eastern

Northfield, MN

Release Date: 
May 25, 2018
Liner Notes: 
1 CD

Issam Rafea and Gao Hong: Life As Is

One Sheet: 

Although peaceful international dialog may seem as elusive as ever, the shining exceptions are all the more heart-warming. Two Syrian and Chinese musicians met in Minnesota. The rest is history (the good kind).

Both artists came from lands going through political strife — Issam Rafea living through the recent war in Syria, and Gao Hong growing up during the Cultural Revolution. Now, they continue to pursue their musical visions in the United States. They both are performers and composers and love to improvise, just like they have had to navigate their lives to survive. They both use their hearts to play music, and both believe that music needs to come from their souls and deepest feelings. Hence the title — Life As Is: The Blending of Ancient Souls from Syria and China

Issam Rafea (a master of the Oud, the Arabic lute) and Gao Hong (a leading player of the Pipa, the Chinese pear-shaped lute) met in the spring of 2017 at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Issam was an artist-in-residence during the spring term, and Gao Hong invited him to teach her students about Arabic music. At the end of the term, she suggested they go into a studio to record some improvisations just for fun. To their surprise and delight, they immediately bonded as soon as they started to play. Their improvisations were so cohesive and alive that it seemed as if they had worked together for years, if not lifetimes.

Life As Is is a reflection of both of their lives. It is their life stories, as reflected in the track titles. Both of them “Walking the Distance” to America to follow their dreams. They recorded the music on a rainy summer day, and even though they didn’t talk about what “Summer Rain” should sound like, they shared the exact same feelings. Their lives have not always been easy, and that is expressed in “Undercurrent” and the uncertainty of their lives in “Up and Down”. But even in their darkest hours, they still remained optimistic and hopeful, as if there were a “Hidden Dance” soon to appear in their lives. Sometimes, living so far away, they get “Homesick” and have a “Heavy Heart” as they miss their homelands and families, but they keep working hard and chasing their dreams as in “Chasing Butterflies”. And they are thankful for the music they have made together in their “Chance Encounter”. They share their happy “Childhood” stories in their music. So many wonderful stories, but they realize life is so short, just like a “Short Film”. This is their life, these their tales – “Life As Is”!