Visionary Lebanese singer Abdel Karim Shaar was born in Tripoli and began his vocal training leading calls to prayer as a muezzin in mosques and singing in a Christian church choir. As a young man, he also learned the art of Tajweed or Quranic recitation. In the 1970s, Shaar commenced his career in entertainment on Lebanese television and received widespread attention for his idiosyncratic singing style.
Over the years he’s become identified with deeply moving performances that combine ornate, delicately-articulated Arabic phrasing and both mental and physical endurance; most often, his two-or three-hour-long appearances are centred on a single, two- or three-minute standard of the Arabic pop music canon. Each evening is devoted to a particular classic rendition of one of these songs (most often by the masterful Umm Kulthum), and renders this version through a fusion of structure and leeway for improvisation, or, as Shaar calls it, the “transference of energy”. Like Umm Kulthum, an Egyptian songwriter, singer, and actress, Shaar is closely linked to the traditional concept of tarab, which describes music’s evocation of emotional catharsis.
Because Shaar’s approach to singing prioritizes the mindfulness and dynamic exchange of live musical communication, he has never recorded an album. For years he has had a residency at Beirut's Metro Al-Madina, a small, dimly-lit downtown cabaret venue hung with red velvet curtains. One of his characteristic performances there was described by Jerusalem in my Heart’s Radwan Ghazi Moumneh in The Wire as a “humbling” and “challenging” journey.