Egyptian cellist seeks freedom to play

To many, the American Dream is to live a wealthy life. But Ashraf Hakim came to America to pursue something more — the freedom to play his cello.


Reporter Newspapers

To many, the American Dream is to live a wealthy life.

But Ashraf Hakim came to America to pursue something more — the freedom to play his cello.

The Egyptian native began his musical career when he was just five years old and by the time he was an adult, he played first chair for the Cairo Opera House, Arabic Symphony Orchestra and Egyptian National Cultural Theater.

But his maestro called him a “crazy cellist.”

“The cellists over there were like employees,” Hakim recalled, who currently resides in Redmond with some friends while he is looking for permanent housing and a more stable living situation. “I told them I’m not an employee. I’m full of power, I’m full of energy. I want to fly with my cello in to the sky.”

So Hakim came to the United States a few years ago to put his own creative spin on his instrument as a soloist.

“My cello is my religion,” he said. “My cello is my humanity. My cello is my dignity. My cello is my art, my love – everything,” he said.

In America, Hakim said he feels more freedom to play an eclectic mix of jazz, classical, Arabic, Egyptian or the blues. Hakim has played at venues across the Eastside, including the Oriel Café in Kirkland and Jerzy’s Wine Bar in Redmond.

Hakim recently played for a customer appreciation party for the Mavodo Botique in Bellevue. Holding his cello across his chest, he moved the bow across the strings and a deep sound like a violin resonated.

Hakim has learned that his dreams take some persistence, and the help of a few friends along the way.

Mark and Mary Dunphy were first captured by Hakim’s music last week, when he played at their Kirkland home for a charity event they hosted.

“Until he played at my house, I thought of a cellist as playing all classical. He’s not that,” said Mark, who is helping Hakim to find regular gigs around the Eastside. “He’s very creative with it and it’s very awe-inspiring to hear him play.”

The Dunphys have connected with Hakim and locked on to his need to survive, Mark said, adding that his friend needs his own space he can be creative in.

“His need right now is to have that space where he can practice, relax, sleep and have that stability,” Mark continued, adding that they currently have two students staying with them, but hope to figure out something in their own home where Hakim can stay and practice. “That’s been our focus is doing what we can to help make him successful.”

With no home, car or much money for food, Hakim said he is fighting to survive, and to convince society what he is willing to do as an artist. He also hopes his love of music will earn him enough to bring his two children over from Egypt, 15-year-old Karim and his daughter, 12-year-old Mariam, who also plays the cello.

“Money is important, but it’s not my target,” he said. “My living, my income, my soul, my heart — everything in my life is music from my cello.”