The careers of how many men do you figure get started because their big brother was a jerk? At least one that we know of; that of flute-master Nadim Dlaikan.
While growing up in the small Lebanese village of Aley, Dlaikan’s older sibling brought home a popular musical instrument, the ney—an end-blown wind instrument that has been prominent in Middle Eastern music for at least four thousand years, making it one of the oldest musical instruments still in use, a forerunner of the modern flute. Immediately fascinated, Dlaiken wanted to try his hand at the instrument, but his big brother wouldn’t allow it. So what did the plucky, self-sufficient youngster do? He made his own.
It’s an occupation he’s been at ever since.
Nadim attended the Lebanese Conservatory to improve and strengthen his musical education under the tutelage of highly acclaimed musicians, and in Beirut, he frequently accompanied Lebanon's best folk music and dance troupes, touring the Middle East.
In 1970, Nadim immigrated to the United States and worked several years as a musician in New York City before settling in Detroit, which has the largest and highest concentration of Lebanese in the country. After years of ‘hobby performances’, Nadim realized his dream and quit his job, today devoting himself completely to his music.
In addition, probably thanks to the influence of his elder brother’s possessiveness, Nadim is the United States’ only ney maker. Using bamboo he grows in his Southgate back yard (“I brought it up from Florida,” he says. “Nobody thought it could grow here, but mine comes back every year…”), he hand crafts a variety of Arab flutes and neys in every conceivable size, pitch and shape.
Not all work out, he admits: “The quality of a particular reed, the nuances of the wood, even the craftsmanship don’t always match the particular pitch I am after. I never sell an ‘out-of-tune’ flute, not even to students just starting out. Someday, when their musical ear develops, they’ll realize it! My ‘mistakes’ sell for a dollar at novelty Arabic shops around the city.”
Fortunately, such mistakes are few and far between, and musicians, both Arab and otherwise, order his instruments and trust him fine-tune and repair the ones they own.