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Hamza El Din

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  • Born: Toskha, Nubia, Egypt
  • Died: Berkeley, CA
  • Years Active: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

One of the first African musicians to gain widespread international recognition, Hamza El Din is a Nubian master of the oud, or the fretless lute. Western listeners are as likely as not to have been exposed to his work via the Grateful Dead, who played with him on-stage occasionally. (El Din also helped arrange the Dead's tour of Egypt.) He played an integral role in modernizing Nubian music, using his work to both evoke and tell stories of Nubian life.

El Din was originally trained to be an engineer, but changed direction and enrolled in the Middle Eastern School of Music, where he began to compose his own songs. On a fellowship to study Western classical music in Rome, he met American Gino Foreman, who exposed Hamza's work to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. This resulted in a contract with Vanguard. His mid-'60s debut, Al Oud -- Instrumental and Vocal Music From Nubia, was one of the first "world music" recordings to achieve wide exposure in the West.

In the second half of the 1960s, El Din spent much of his time in America, living in guitarist Sandy Bull's apartment for a while. Taking a series of teaching positions in various American locations, he also found time to record a Nonesuch album in 1968, Escalay, that is considered one of the best documents of Nubian music. Eclipse is his most notable post-Escalay record, raising his profile in the U.S. when it was reissued on CD by Rykodisc.