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
Life as Is: The Blending of Ancient Souls from Syria & ChinaiTunes Artist's PageiTunes Album Page
Song TitleTimePrice
1.Walking Distance04:10$0.99
2.Summer Rain03:42$0.99
4.Up and Down03:55$0.99
5.Hidden Dance06:42$0.99
6.Life as Is05:49$0.99
8.Chasing Butterflies04:25$0.99
9.Chance Encounter06:03$0.99
10.Heavy Heart04:37$0.99
12.Short Film05:26$0.99
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”!



“a recording that is consistently engaging, deeply contemplative and culturally resonant.” [FULL ARTICLE] - Charlie Cawood


"Life, as it is, becomes the common ground from which a complementary organization of sounds can emerge, from which different traditions can be not made into one but shared. After all, we’ve all stood beneath the summer rain, we’ve all been homesick, we’ve all suffered from heavy hearts, and all of those common experiences are also radically different in each and every one of us, depending on where we’ve stood, what we’ve called home, who our hearts have been heavy for. It is truly a gift that Hong & Rafea show us just how simple it all really is." [FULL ARTICLE] - David Murrieta


"The tunes are improvised, the players are masters, the vibe gets thick. Sometimes with ancient tradition, time and understanding seems to become dense and harden. These players are kicking up dust, looting the columbarium, hybridizing new alloys and making waves in the aether." [FULL ARTICLE]


"The 12 stories told on the Life as Is CD have plenty of examples of Gao and Rafea using their instruments to paint particular emotions or situations." - [FULL ARTICLE] - Terry Blain


Both prolific composers and performers, they also share a love of improvisation and belief that music comes from their souls and deepest feelings. This is the inspiration for the title of their CD release [FULL ARTICLE]


"For music that is improvised, there is plenty of melody and communication." [FULL ARTICLE] - George Harris


"Two talented musicians perform and improvise with great skill on their respective instruments, the Sirian Oud and the Chinese Pipa, twelve tracks of great suggestion, charm and elegance." [FULL ARTICLE] - Luciano Feliciani