If only his violin were in his hand, it would be a whole lot simpler. He would play and things would be clear. But the violin is not here, and Nassim Dakwar is sitting in his kitchen in the northern village of Tarshiha, trying to describe the inner core of his music. He talks about the emotional connection between him and the violin, and says he aspires to reach the magic behind the sounds. These attempts leave him dissatisfied, however; he sighs and appears a bit frustrated.

But then he smiles with relief and says: "I search for simplicity and depth, okay? That's the thing: Simplicity and depth. It is very difficult. Obviously if I perform a rapid and complex piece, I will use the technique I have acquired over the years. But that is not the goal. The goal is simplicity and depth. Both in playing and composing. Not to complicate matters. Not to overload. You can shove a million sounds into a musical phrase of a few seconds, and when I was younger I did that. Now I don't. It's a matter of maturity. Life alters you. Your personality and your music, and with the years my music has become clearer, it breathes more. It's music that has few instruments and a lot of space."

AT 3 A.M., on September 7, when Dakwar performs with his own eponymous trio (Loay Khalif on oud and bouzouki and Suhiel Nassar on kanun ) at the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival, as part of the Jerusalem Season of Culture, we will be able to bask in the deep simplicity of his music. Without having heard what will be played at the show (Dakwar has no recording of it ), it is safe to say that this is one musical event you will not want to miss. Dakwar is a wonderful musician and a superb composer, as anyone knows who has lent an ear to the Arab music and the world music made in Israel in the past 20 years.

The Bustan Abraham band, the Ziryab Trio, singer Amal Murkus' ensemble - these are only some of the groups in which Dakwar has played and for whom he has composed wondrously. It is hard to believe, but the upcoming performance at the Sacred Music Festival will be the first in which Dakwar, 53, will be leading an ensemble of his own, under his own name, as part of a distinguished musical event. It's high time.

Dakwar's father, who played violin and oud, and performed throughout northern Israel, began teaching his son to play the oud at age 5. At 7, Nassim added the violin, which became his primary instrument. He played Oriental violin and listened to Arabic music at home, but soon got to know Western classical music as well.

"My father was both a musician and a carpenter," he says. "He worked in the carpentry workshop of Kibbutz Yehiam - and what sort of music did they listen to at the workshop? Classical music, of course. I imagine that one of the people there suggested that my father send me to a conservatory, and that is how I began traveling at age 9 to the conservatory in Nahariya."

Dakwar stuck to the Western classical mold until his graduation from high school, but at the same time continued to play Oriental violin; from 12 onward he even played weddings.

Isn't it confusing to play both Western classical music and Arabic music?

"No. You make a switch in your head. I had two violins, Oriental and Western, that were tuned differently, and I had no problem playing them both. Quite the contrary, I think it helped me. My playing, even at age 12 or 13, was unique because of the two worlds."

When an Arab violinist plays Arabic music, can you hear in his playing whether he received a Western classical training?

"In the first few bars. In the way he produces the sound. And if I see him, then also in the way he holds the violin."

What about oud players? A lot of Arab violinists also play the oud. When you hear an oud player, can you tell whether he also plays Western violin?

"Immediately. By the technique and the manner in which the player moves on the instrument."

You say that being in both worlds helped you. Are there musicians for whom it was harmful?

"Yes. There are some who lose their way, fall between the cracks. It happens when someone from the sector [i.e., the Israeli Arab community] begins to study Western classical music at a young age and abandons Arabic music, doesn't play it at home. Sometimes it's at the insistence of the teacher. And then, when he gets to be 15 or 16 and realizes that he is not good enough to pursue classical music, he wants to go back to Arabic music. But he hasn't got it. He won't hear the quarter tones of Arabic music, he won't play them cleanly. He hasn't got the music inside. So a lot fall. They're neither here no there."

'The flame went out'

After high school, Dakwar studied physics at the Hebrew University. His father wanted him to learn a profession and keep music as a hobby. "So I took one semester of physics, but I began visiting the music academy: taking an interest, listening, entering classrooms. After one semester, I transferred there. They didn't know at home at first."

During his studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, in the late 1970s, Dakwar was the only Arab in the school. "Simon Shaheen [likewise a native of Tarshiha, who moved to the United States 30 years ago and became a star] studied before me at the academy in Tel Aviv, and Taiseer [Elias, Dakwar's partner in the ensemble Bustan Abraham] entered the academy in Jerusalem when I graduated. But for the four years I studied there, the lone Arab," Dakwar adds.

Was it difficult?

"It was at the beginning. We, members of my generation, were less open than the young people today. But after a month or two, I was like everybody else. I received a lot of help from the teachers and my fellow students."

Were there questions like, 'What's an Arab guy doing studying Western classical music?'

"There were, but I knew full well why I was there, and it didn't unsettle me."

After graduating from the academy, Dakwar returned to Tarshiha, east of Nahariya, near the Lebanese border, founded a music school in the village, established the Tarshiha Orchestra (see box ), played in the Israel Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra, took part in numerous recordings, and wrote music for theater.

"I was feeling my way, like any musician starting out, I was seeking my path," he says. "And then, in the midst of all these things, Bustan got started."

Bustan Abraham (comprised of Dakwar, Taiseer Elias, Avshalom Farjun, Zohar Fresco, Emmanuel Mann, Amir Milstein and Miguel Herstein ) was the best and most successful of the Israeli groups that arose in the 1990s and blended music from East and West. "There was also plenty of rubbish," Dakwar says with uncharacteristic bluntness about some of the lesser ensembles.

When asked about Bustan's music, he describes a collective work process, in which one musician would bring up an idea and the others developed it. Another reason for Bustan's success, he says, was "the feeling that it didn't belong to someone. It was mine as much as Taiseer's or Zohar's or any other member's. I didn't feel like I was working for someone, but rather that I was working for something that was mine and all of ours."

Part of the success also had to do with fact that you meshed with the cultural and political climate. Yitzhak Rabin had come to power then.

"That's true. The Foreign Ministry in the Rabin era promoted Bustan. We traveled abroad a lot. As if there were some directive in the Foreign Ministry: 'Bustan? Give it to them.'"

Did you make money from Bustan?

"Yes, loads. It was a time when you still made money from CDs, and our albums sold all over the world, and a lot of our music was bought for films."

Did Rabin's assassination and the rise of the right mark the beginning of the end for Bustan?

"There were all sorts of reasons, but I think that politics had a serious impact. Everything got overturned. Suddenly in Europe they didn't want to hear anything about us, and the Foreign Ministry stopped supporting us. There was also natural erosion after several very intensive years, and some of the members began to be preoccupied with other things. There were also matters of ego. There are things that happen on stage between musicians that the audience doesn't know about. Something was in the air, something awkward. Slowly, slowly the flame went out."

What's lacking

After Bustan Abraham disbanded, Dakwar continued to teach in the Oriental music department at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, and began working with the singer Amal Murkus. Working with Murkus led him to compose songs for the first time in his life, and it is worthwhile listening to Murkus' latest and wonderful album, titled "Baghani," to understand what an excellent composer he is and how he wisely combines an artistic musical dimension with a more direct and simple one.

When asked the secret to the beauty of the songs he composed for Murkus, Dakwar says modestly that the thing that is most special about these songs is their arrangement, which is done by the talented Moreb Mahran.

"Mahran arranged the authentic Arabic instruments as though he were arranging for cello, viola and violin, and yet kept a view to the East," Dakwar says. "There is a lot of counterpoint in these arrangements. If you hear only what the oud or the kanun is doing, you won't understand a thing. What completes the picture is the combination of all the instruments," he explains, and only then adds: "And the melodies themselves are also on another level."

Dakwar's performance at the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival marks a new phase in his work. Not only is he leading his own ensemble, as said, but he is also gearing up to release shortly a debut album of his instrumental pieces.

Why have you waited this long? Is it a personality thing?

"Could be. There were many years during which I was very busy, and even though I wasn't the leader of these projects, I felt like they were mine, both as a musician and as a composer, and I had no need to lead my own ensemble. In recent years I devoted a lot of time to composing, and for the first time in my life I have the courage to put it out there. Once I used to look and look, and hear mainly what was lacking and not what was there. Today I feel more complete. I look for the simplicity and depth and find them. I know that it's a little late."

Musical village

One day a couple of weeks ago, Nassim Dakwar led a guest through the narrow streets of Tarshiha, and every few meters he would stop the car and point at the locked iron door of what was once a workshop. “When I was growing up, in the ‘60s, Tarshiha was the center for the entire area,” he says. “All of the workshops were here: brass, knives, jewelers, metalworkers. They would come here on donkeys from all the villages around. The farmer needed work tools? The women needed housewares? Only in Tarshiha. Today these workshops are closed. There is no need for them.”

How does all of this relate to music?

It is closely connected, Dakwar says. “The workshops of Tarshiha manufactured everything by hand. The people who worked in them were craftsmen. Music is another side of the same thing, and I think that this is the main reason why Tarshiha is an unusually musical village. Music is a big deal in the village. There is hardly a house where it is not being played. Such is not the case in the neighboring villages. If you’d gone in the ‘70s to Peki’in, Meilia, Fasuta, there they barely knew what a kanun was.” Tarshiha residents’ heightened awareness was one of the factors that led Dakwar in the late 1980s to found the Tarshiha Orchestra, which had dozens of musicians and singers from the village and performed the classic Arabic repertoire. “When we got started we did it for fun, but within a short time it became serious, and we added musicians from outside the village, and we appeared in Cairo, Jordan, Tunis.”

Dakwar quit the orchestra in the 1990s. “I was the conductor, and I don’t like that role. I like to play and to compose,” he says. But about a year ago he decided to return to the ensemble, “with a fresh view,” as he put it. “I want us to play original music, mine and that of other composers who are active now, and if we play old music, I want it to be special music, and not the Arab classics that everyone plays.”

The orchestra’s next project is a concert devoted to the music of Ruhi al-Khammash, a Palestinian composer who was born in Nablus in 1921, studied in Cairo, moved to Iraq in 1948, became one of the most important musicians in the country, and died a few years ago. “In Iraq they know him, in Egypt they know him, but here, in the place where he was born, they don’t know about him,” says Dakwar, who made the acquaintance of Khammash’s music in an academic archive. “I did proper research, and we are about to put on a show that goes all out. He deserves it. He was just as good as the great Egyptian composers.”