24 May 2006

Nubian Silence: Farewell to Hamza El Din

Oud master and Nubian music advocate Hamza El Din is no longer with us. His gorgeous music evoked the spirit of Nubia (just as the music of the late Ali Hassan Kuban convinced us to dance like a Nubian).

Often pronounced as a patriarch of Nubian soul music, Hamza El Din was born in 1929 (the same year as Kuban) in a part of Nubia that now lies in Sudan, and he performed his first US gig at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. A pioneer in what would later be labeled "world music," he got his first recording contract through the help of Joan Baez. He moved to California and found a friend and promoter in the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart, and went on to collaborate with a great diversity of musicians, as well as passing along his knowedge to students.

Performing brilliantly on the Oud (the precursor of the lute, pipa and biwa) and the Tar (the ancient single-skinned drum of the upper Nile), along with haunting voice and spellbinding compositions, Hamza el Din combines the pleasures and subtleties of Arabic music with his indigenous music of his native Nubia. In his masterful hands, the oud has become a virtuoso instrument as well an accompaniment to his gentle and hypnotic singing. He has single handedly created a new music, essentially a Nubian-Arabic fusion, but one in line with both traditions and informed by Western conservatory training. His music has captured the interest of millions of listeners from Europe, Japan and North America. (otherminds.org)

"I am not the musician, He (God) is the musician," Hamza El Din said in an Afropop interview. "I'm just the instrument holder and he's playing the instrument." Ah, but what an instrument holder he was. Hamza El Din passed away yesterday in Berkeley, California.

website: www.hamzaeldin.com

Hamza El Din albums currently in print or readily available:
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