Hamza el Din - oud, tar, vocals
Although he settled in Oakland, California, Hamza el Din was a celebrated Nubian musician who was best known for soulful performances that blended both Nubian and Arabic musical styles. His unique and compelling music would influence many contemporary artists, among them the Grateful Dead and the Kronos Quartet.
Hamza el Din was a master of the oud, the Arabic version of a lute. He also played tar, a single-skinned drum that came from his native region of Nubia. Mickey Hart, longtime drummer for the Grateful Dead, was a student of el Din's, and practiced the tar for several hours a day over a period of six years until he had learned to play it to the satisfaction of el Din. Hart, who first performed with el Din when the Grateful Dead played at the Pyramids in Egypt in 1978, called el Din a master and has stated in interviews that el Din was capable of "suspending time."
He would later open for the Dead in 1979 at San Francisco's Winterland as part of a group of Sufi drummers. These appearances marked the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship with Hart, as well as Dead member Jerry Garcia (who considered el Din one of the finest musicians he ever worked with).
Hamza el Din was born in Toskha, Nubia, which is in modern-day Egypt. His interest in the oud and tar began while he was studying engineering at the University of Cairo. At the same time, he took classes in traditional Nubian and Egyptian music. Initially, he had planned to work as a certified engineer, but in the late 1950s he became aware of plans to build the Aswan Dam. The Dam, which was completed in the early-1960s, was designed to submerge the land of Nubia, which it did. When el Din found this out, he was determined to devote his life to keeping the legacy of the area's music alive. He moved to Rome, where he studied Western music, and by the late-1960s, had settled in the Bay Area, where he began teaching music at Mills College. His performances were always scheduled around his teaching commitments. He also taught musicology at Ohio University, the University of Washington, and the University of Texas in the '80s and '90s.
This recording was made at the legendary Ash Grove club in Los Angeles and its four songs include a combination of Nubian folk tales and traditional songs. In 2006, at the age of 76, Hamza died in Berkeley, California after contracting a deadly gall bladder infection.
Written by Alan Bershaw