Nadim Dlaikan

Master of Music

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From Aley to Detroit

Nadim Dlaikan, the internationally acclaimed Lebanese flutist, was born in Aley, in 1941.

At around the age of 9, Nadim Dlaikan fell in love with the nye, a reed flute, that his brother had brought home. Nadim’s family initially was not supportive of his interest in the nye because it was traditionally associated with shepherds. His brother didn’t want him playing his flute, but Nadim did so on the sly.

He persisted and even found ways to make his own flutes from locally grown reeds, and continued to practice.

A turning point came when he saw Naim Bitar, the country’s leading nye player, on television. One of Nadim’s sisters called the station, and Nadim spoke to Bitar, who agreed to work with him at the National Conservatory. Seeing that Nadim was serious, his family became supportive, and his oldest sister drove him to the conservatory twice a week for his lessons. He graduated after nine years of study and become a professional musician.

The image below shows Nadim Dlaikan and Fahd Ballan at Aley’s Tanios Hotel, in 1962.

The Flute

Upon graduation Dlaikan moved to Beirut, and traveled frequently throughout the Middle East as part of Lebanon’s best-known folk troupe.

In 1969, he was invited to play at a Fourth of July party at the American Embassy in Beirut.

“We played there and I met an American guy from Pennsylvania who told me he’d never seen an instrument like my flute in America. He encouraged me to come to America to play.”

Dlaikan first went to the U.S. as a back-up musican for Lebanese pop singer Samira Tawfik.

“I came to United States in 1971 with a group to tour and I decided to stay. I’ve been here since 1971.”

He lived first in New York City, then moved to the Detroit area, which has a large Middle Eastern population.

“When I first came I lived in New York City and of course there were many Greek, Arabic, Turkish and Armenian people there. That’s why I went there. I was so happy to see people who wanted to listen to my music. I think I was the first to play this instrument here. They were so happy to see somebody play this instrument.”

He performs regularly and continues to make several types of flutes, using bamboo grown in his back yard.

“I’m the only one who makes this instrument in the U.S.

“People call from all over the country to order flutes, all types of flutes.”

Nadim has taught others to play the instrument, but says it requires real dedication.

“It has open holes, not keys like a regular flute. You have to make the sound with your finger, by your feeling when you blow. It took me about six or seven years in school to learn how to play. It’s very hard to learn and to play. You have to be smart and love the instrument to play it well.”


“I’ve composed many songs and music – for the Middle East and America. 

“I compose music for American bands and musicians. Most of them are traditional in style, some are a mix of western and eastern music.

“Most of them are folk songs, traditional songs, very, very old songs especially for the dance they call the “dabke” in Arabic, a circle dance. That’s the most popular thing we do in a concert or a party. That’s what everyone wants to do there.

“Each community has its own traditions, but everybody does the debka.”

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“I compose traditional music, for the most part, because it still lives on.

“The new songs coming out are the commercial songs – they don’t live more than two, three weeks. But people still remember the old songs and they love them.

“The composer of the traditional music spent so much time to put the music together, but now a musician composes fifteen songs in one hour. Everything tends to be commercial now. You make a song, then throw in the market, and see how many CD’s you’re going to sell.

“You know, they can play all kinds of instruments on the synthesizer, on the keyboard. But people like to see the instrument. When you make a sound on the keyboard like a guitar or a trumpet or a flute, the people hear the flute but they like to see the flute. I like to go to the symphony orchestra to watch the instruments of fifty or sixty musicians – I like to watch what they’re doing. That’s what’s interesting.

“With the Arabic band here, we’ve got seven or eight very unique instruments. People love to come and take pictures of my instrument and have me explain to them how it makes the sound. That’s the most important thing, you know.”

"I love this instrument. I feel like it's a part of my body."

Nadim Dlaikan – Master Flutist & Flute-Maker

“How can I explain it to you? I love this instrument. I feel like it’s a part of my body. I feel very good. With any instrument, not just the flute, if you didn’t love it you’re not going to make a very good sound. You have to hug it tight to make a good sound.”

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Suitcase of Sounds

“Americans love the nye, because they haven’t seen an instrument like this before. They come to the stage to ask me how it’s made and how I make the sounds.

“When I play the melody on the stage I have to keep changing flutes, keep changing to different sizes.

“Each flute – unlike an American flute – has it’s own key. G and B and A. When the singer is going to sing in the G, I have to grab the G flute. When somebody wants to sing in D, I have to grab the D flute. That’s why I have to carry so many flutes with me.

“The suitcase I carry them in can hold ten or eleven flutes.”

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