MAAS alum combines language skills, industry savvy, and a bit of “wasta” to bring Arab musicians to Washington audiences.
By Isabel Roemer
In 2003, MAAS alum David Chambers (‘88) received a call from the family of the late Munir Bashir, the celebrated Iraqi musician widely regarded as “King of Oud.” Chambers had spent much of the 1990s in the entertainment industry in the Arab world—notably, for the Showtime Arabia satellite TV network. Now back in Washington, D.C., he faced a challenge: how to arrange a gig for Omar Bashir, Munir’s son, in the nation’s capital?
Chambers had seen the senior Bashir perform a decade earlier at the Kennedy Center (KC). He recalls it as “the most beautiful, powerful” concert he’s ever witnessed. So, he cold-called the Kennedy Center. “I did not ask or offer,” reveals Chambers. “I insisted they book Omar. I assured them: were he only half as good as his father, they’d be hosting one of the great performances of oud in America.” The KC did indeed invite Omar, and the concert proved such a success that the KC welcomed more. Chambers recommended Marcel Khalife and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh (with Arab jazz group Hewar). As a result, the KC invited Chambers to join its Community Advisory Board. Over the next half decade, he co-produced and co-marketed performances by Middle Eastern and Central Asian artists, including trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, qanunist Hicham Chami, and oudist Rahim AlHaj.
Most artists have performed on the Millennium Stage. Its free daily concerts fulfill the KC’s mission to make the performing arts more widely accessible. “I offered a ‘win-win solution,’” says Chambers. “The performers played the Kennedy Center and got an online video made of their performance. The Kennedy Center got top-quality performers and larger than normal audiences.”
Chambers (CEO of Carpamus, Inc., a sales management consultancy) says knowledge of the Middle East and D.C. connections have enabled his success as volunteer music impresario. “I speak two regional languages. I’m a tiny bit m’aruuf thanks to my entertainment experience. And I love Middle East music.” Chambers said. “So, I mixed them, cooked up some wasta, and got these artists on stage.”
Chambers, who also serves on the advisory board of Washington’s PostClassical Ensemble, says his chief motivation has always been to share music. Thanks to the dozens of concerts Chambers has since facilitated for more than 20 musical groups from the Arab world, his own decades-long love affair with music has proven a “win-win” for others as well.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2018 CCAS Newsmagazine.