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Issam Rafea and Gao Hong Duo Homepage

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For Booking:

1960 Cliff Lake Road, #129-219,

Eagan, MN USA

(952) 210-3628




Issam Rafea and Gao Hong Album

Watch a video of them while they were recording the album

Hidden Dance on Vimeo


All Tracks are Improvisations

1. Walking the Distance 4'11"

2. Summer Rain 3'41"

3. Undercurrent 3'23"

4. Up and Down 3'55"

5. Hidden Dance 6'42"

6. Life As Is 5'50"

7. Homesick 4'04"

8. Chasing Butterflies 4'26"

9. Chance Encounter 6'04"

10.Heavy Heart 4'38"

11. Childhood 3'22"

12. Short Film 5'27"

Total: 54'44"

Copyright ©2017 Issam Rafea and Gao Hong




"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






The Issam Rafea and Gao Hong Duo Story

The music of Syrian oud master Issam Rafea and Chinese pipa master Gao Hong is touching people very deeply in wonderful ways. After they released one of their videos on Facebook, it immediately had over 400 “shares” around the globe. People loved it so much they felt compelled to write “this is when music truly is the language of the world and rises us to the feeling of becoming one”, "you will hear and forget yourself and the war of wars…” and “A single language understood by the whole earth." For many, it has become a ray of hope and a breath of fresh air in a troubled world.

Issam and Gao Hong met in the spring of 2017 at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where Gao Hong teaches and directs the Carleton Global Music Ensemble. Issam was an artist-in-residence during the spring term, and Gao Hong invited him to teach her students Arabic music. At the end of the term, Gao Hong suggested they go into a studio to record some improvisations just for fun. This simple idea resulted in one of their favorite cross-cultural collaborative projects.

To both of their surprise, they immediately bonded as soon as they started to play. Their improvisations were so cohesive that it seemed as if they had worked together for years. They even decided to film the entire recording session so they could document the fact that all the music was improvised. They recorded in one long session that went from early afternoon through late evening. They recorded 28 tracks, without any rehearsing, completing each track in just one take. They picked 12 tracks for their upcoming album.

They both 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, as they have had to navigate their lives. 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”.

Music speaks to the heart, across language, across conflict.

Music unites nations from far and wide!

About the Album

“Life As Is - The Blending of Ancinet Souls from Syria and China"

“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 their 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 stories – “Life As Is”!

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Issam Rafea and Gao Hong Duo Homepage

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