Oudyano: Steven Hobert and Issam Rafea



  • Black Dog Lowertown (map)
  • 308 East Prince Street
  • Saint Paul, MN, 55101
  • United States

Issam Rafea is the Winner of the 2010 “Best Composer Award” in Dubai International Film Festival (Muhr Arab) in the film “Matar Ayloul,” “September Rain.”  Rafea is the Chair of the Arabic Music Department at High Institute of Music in Damascus and the principal conductor of Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music. Rafea has studied under Fayez Zahr El-Din, Aref Abdallah, and Askar Ali-Akbar. In 1995, he received his bachelor’s degrees in Oud and Double Bass performance, as well as Oriental Conducting from the High Institute of Music in Damascus. He is also on the faculty in the institute teaching Oud. In Syria, Rafea has been an active composer and arranger for TV and Theater since the 90s.

In addition to several solo appearances with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra which was conducted by Solhi Al Wadi, Rafea has performed internationally in countries like France, Spain, Germany, Holland, Italy, Morocco, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Kuwait and United States. He participated in festivals such as the Mediterranean Festival in Algeria, the World Universal Expo in Seville, Spain, Spiritual Music Festival Marseille, France, The Arabic Music Conferences in Cairo, and Babel Festival in Iraq.

Rafea is the Co-founder and Oudist for the contemporary Arabic music group “Hewar.” Hewar has performed in several countries such as UAE, Egypt, Germany, UK, France, Japan, and USA. In 2011 and 2012 the group participated in the Morgenland Festival in Osnabrueck, Germany with successful performances that resulted in the production of a new album “ Letters to a Homeland” featuring a live performance of the group. Rafea also founded “Twais Quartet,” a group that performs both original compositions by Rafea and traditional Arabic music works.

Rafea collaborates internationally with groups like “Gorillaz” arranging five works that were performed by the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music. It was recorded in Damascus Opera house. One piece was selected to be in “Gorillaz” album “Plastic Beach” in 2009. The project was concluded with an international tour in UK, Europe, Lebanon, Syria, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia. Additionally, Rafea participated in a series of concerts and workshops during 2010 with the students of Royal Academy in Denmark as part of the Syrian-Danish cultural cooperation. He was also invited by the German institute in Ankara, Turkey to participate in an electronic music concert.

In March of 2013 Rafea was invited to the United States to direct the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble, and give a series of presentations and performances at Northern Illinois University School of Music. While he was in Illinois, Rafea performed with guitar virtuoso Fareed Haque in multiple cross cultural collaborations. Rafea currently resided in Illinois and continues to perform, compose and teach throughout his visit.

Issam Rafea and Steven Hobert

Issam Rafea and Steven Hobert

Steven Hobert describes himself as a soul who plays, sings and dances while exploring life’s mysteries. His genre-blending piano, accordion and vocal music has been described as “delightful, innovative and viscerally inspiring” that dazzles audiences with sincerity and playfulness to open up hearts and fire imaginations.  Based out of Minneapolis, he plays in a duet with Dean Magraw, tours as a soloist, leads the world beat-driven ensemble FireFlyForest, leads the Steven Hobert (jazz) Quartet and works as a free-lance producer, composer and instrumentalist for countless shows with vocalists & ensembles in jazz, classical, world music fusion, sacred music and American roots music.

Steven grew up in a musical family of seven and took to the piano right when he started at the age of ten.  He practiced vigorously and joyously into the night each day until his parents would demand he stop so the family could sleep.  By the age of twelve he was composing pieces – most notably, “The Grand Procession” – a full concert band piece which he wrote out and conducted for the 6th grade Lakeside School Band concert in Hartland, WI.  Steven Hobert continued to expand his musical palette through his studies at the University Wisconsin-Eau Claire.  He graduated in 2006 with a bachelors in Music – Liberal Arts, and went on the road for a year in 2008 throughout the U.S., Canada and Japan as the pianist for the Glenn Miller Orchestra.  He has guested with a number of symphony orchestras including Calgary, Detroit & Buffalo, performed as a soloist in the 2014 Twin Cities Jazz Festival and been featured on Minnesota Public Radio as a member of the Adam Meckler Orchestra.

Recent commissions include the scoring and foley creation for the film “Know Your Rights” in 2014 (United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants), scoring and performing for the live radio drama broadcast of “Jazz Noir” on KBEM in Minneapolis in 2015.  He appeared playing the accordion in the feature film “Public Domain” (directed by Patrick Coyle).  Steven’s most recent release is the piano-driven album “Ocean Eyes,” –  a journey interweaving flowing improvisations, classical and folk melodies, jazz harmonies and hip-shaking grooves – featuring percussionist  Marc Anderson (performed with Steve Tibbets and Greg Brown) and Tony Axtell (Prairie Home Companion and Prince)

Through his authentic and vulnerable expression, Steven aims to be a musical vehicle to spark inspiration, compassionate connection, and facilitate community & healing.

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