George Sawa was born in Alexandria, Egypt. He studied piano with Irene Drakides, a student of Alfred Cortot, and at the Higher Institute of Arabic Music he studied voice, theory, and qanun (Arabic psaltery). His qanun teachers are Muhammad al-Sa‘duni (a student of Mustapha Bey Reda), Milad Mansur (a student of Abdel-Hamid al-Addabi), Amin Fahmi and Mustapha Kamel. After immigrating to Canada in 1970, he studied ethnomusicology at the University of Toronto, and obtained his doctorate in historical Arabic musicology at the Department of Middle Eastern Studies. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses on medieval, modern, and religious music of the Middle East at York University, and at the University of Toronto (1982-1995), and held the Noor Visiting Professorhip at York University (2006-2007).