Farewell, Hamza
May 23, 2006 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Hamza el Din, hailed as "the father of Nubian music," has died. El Din's death has not yet been reported in the news, but I'm told he passed away from complications of brain surgery. It's a great loss for music lovers all over the world. "Escalay," performed on oud with the Kronos Quartet on their album Pieces of Africa, is probably his best-known work, but "Ollin Arageed," his haunting piece for handclaps and tar -- a goatskin drum -- was played numerous times onstage with the Grateful Dead, who championed el Din's music and jammed with him at the Great Pyramid in 1978. Eclipse provides an excellent introduction to his work, the ethereal sounds of one of the oldest continuously-inhabited regions on the planet. In the 1960s, el Din's own home village in Egypt was drowned underwater by the construction of the Aswan Dam, as archeologists tried to save what they could.
posted by digaman (21 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What a loss. Hamza was a person who fused his love of music with his love of Islam, something that this world needs a lot more of these days (Yusuf Islam and his forthcoming album notwithstanding)...
posted by laz-e-boy at 1:51 PM on May 23, 2006

posted by fixedgear at 1:51 PM on May 23, 2006


I always enjoyed hearing him the several times I saw him perform with the Dead. The duet he did with Jerry during the 12-31-90 New year's Eve show was magical -- still gives me goosebumps when I listen to it. He was a generous musician and we be sorely missed.
posted by mosk at 2:03 PM on May 23, 2006

posted by docgonzo at 2:04 PM on May 23, 2006

Indeed, mosk. Hamza was a very sweet man, too.

And in an era in which any dance-friendly track with a drum machine and ersatz sitars is called "trance music," Hamza's music really did induce deeply contemplative states. Listening to it was like hearing a voice speaking from 5000 years ago.
posted by digaman at 2:06 PM on May 23, 2006

I'll miss Hamza very much. I got to see him play with Mickey Hart a few times. Just amazing stuff.

Grateful Dead shows with Hamza (all the ones I know of anyway) are avaliable in an m3u stream or via a flash interface. No lossless soundboard downloads from the GD on archive anymore. Gone are the days...

09-14-78 Gizah Sound and Light Theater, Cairo, Egypt
09-15-78 Gizah Sound and Light Theater, Cairo, Egypt
09-16-78 Gizah Sound and Light Theater, Cairo, Egypt
10-21-78 Winterland Arena, San Francisco, Ca.
10-22-78 Winterland Arena, San Francisco, Ca.
11-24-78 Capitol Theatre, Passaic, N.J.
12-30-78 Pauley Pavilion, U.C.L.A., Los Angeles, Ca.
08-05-79 Oakland Auditorium Arena, Oakland, Ca.
03-13-85 Berkeley Community Theatre, Berkeley, Ca.
12-30-86 Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, Ca.
03-17-88 Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, Ca. - [This is a crowd tape]
12-27-90 Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, Ca. [First set audience, second set soundboard]
12-31-90 Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, Ca. [This one features Branford Marsalis on the last two songs of the first set and the entire second set].
posted by Gankmore at 2:22 PM on May 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Thanks for those links, Gank. Listening to Hamza streaming now.
posted by digaman at 2:37 PM on May 23, 2006

Wow...what a loss indeed, though I only own 2 of his albums. I wouldn't have known about this if not for MF.

Thanks for the music links, too, Gankmore.
posted by Qubit at 3:08 PM on May 23, 2006

I had his Vanguard albums Al Oud: Instruments and Vocal Music and Music of Nubia when I was in high school. When he was the Ethnomusicology Department's musician in residence at the University of Washington in 1985-86--scroll down here for two films of him from then--he lived two blocks down Summit Avenue from me. Or so I figured out while perusing a Cole Street Atlas of Seattle while at the public Library one day a few years later. As with Avram Davidson's sojourn in Bremerton, I only found this out after he was long gone.
posted by y2karl at 3:30 PM on May 23, 2006


I would guess that a lot of people are unconsciously familiar with his music, as it seems to be used often when a tv or film editor wants some oud-y middle-eastern sounding music as a backing track. The other stalwart would be the duduk player, Djivan Gasparayan, whenever something a bit more melancholy is required. Never mind that one is Nubian and the other Armenian, they are applied equally to docos & films from north India to Morocco.

disclaimer: probably can't pick one oud player from another; always assume it is more likely to be Hamza than anybody else
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:32 PM on May 23, 2006

y2karl, those films are great! Thanks!
posted by digaman at 4:59 PM on May 23, 2006

I have to say I am not familiar with this artist, but hope to be. My taste in music has veered from 60's rock to 70's and 80's jazz - with a lot of African and some Indian music mixed in - But so much of what I listen to now is authentic North African/MidEastern/Persian music...often mixed in with Western influences, whcih used to be a cheesy gimmick but is now genuine. World Music can be elevator music or it can be the most enchanting Rai (or...pick yr favorite) in the World. God Bless Technology.

Although my favorite music of all is people just sittin' around after eating hot dogs trying to pick out a tune and sing it together.
posted by kozad at 5:08 PM on May 23, 2006

I've never heard of this person *hangs head in shame*. Now, thanks to this post and y2karl (that link is fantastic), I have. Fabulous music. RIP.
posted by tellurian at 5:12 PM on May 23, 2006

I saw him play once and it was amazing. I had never heard his music, but the crowd had and he sent most of them into a state of musical ecstasy, by the end I was with them.
posted by cell divide at 5:35 PM on May 23, 2006

I just noticed that "Helalisa" -- one of the most haunting tunes from Eclipse, featuring Hamza's voice, tar, and oud -- is available on the Apple Music Store. It's the best 99 cents you'll spend today.
posted by digaman at 5:44 PM on May 23, 2006

ah. Sad news. May he rest in peace. Thank you for the sites about Hamza el Din. What a beautiful face he had, twinkly eyes. On his site I enjoyed his paintings as well. I love his elegantly simple music, subtle, authentic and meaningful.
posted by nickyskye at 7:18 PM on May 23, 2006

While we're mourning, here's Robert Hunter's elegy for Ramrod:

Elegy for Ramrod

Most never knew his given name.
They called him Ramrod.
Lawrence didn't fit him.
He came down from Oregon,
Prankster sidekick of Cassady,
Kesey and the merry crew,
a silent stoic in a vocable milieu
his heart was stolen by the Grateful Dead.

A country boy, not given to complexity,
his crowning gift was loyalty
for which he was loved more than
the common run of men by friends.
This is not to say more than was so,
the common fault of eulogies
which shine the silver of modest virtue
into the gold of rareness.

Every soul owes life a death.
Between each heartbeat is a moment
within which the pulse is still.
In the longer beat between life and death
a man was here we called a friend,
a father, a husband and a son.
He is us and we are him,
his death is ours, our lives are his.

Some see Heaven as dying's recompense,
some acknowledge only nothingness
in a space we know not of,
in a place we know not where.
But this we know, as a poet said:
"To have been here but the once
Never can be undone."

Some will pray, some just remember.
Those who pray, having prayed,
will go on to pray for others.
Those who remember,
having remembered for awhile,
will in the course of time forget,
more so as the years dissolve.
This is as it should be
lest death overstep its bounds
and impinge too much on life.
Life, being what is, cannot
impinge too much on death.

The circumstance we most desire
in grief which shakes our branches
like some holy hurricane raging
through this barren world of little light,
is that our brother be gathered in glory.
If so, rejoice! If wishful thinking,
give thanks instead
that he was here among us.
Delivered from the testing fire of pain,
a truer heart was never broken.

May 17, 2006/R. Hunter

Ramrod died at 6:30 Wed. morning
posted by muckster at 7:25 PM on May 23, 2006

Kozad, if you haven't already heard him, I highly recommend Rachid Taha. He's French/Algerian & his music is very high energy. He does a great cover version of "Rock The Casbah".
posted by mike3k at 8:10 AM on May 24, 2006

Ram Rod's dead? Sweet Jesus.

May the four winds blow them safely home.
posted by docgonzo at 8:31 AM on May 24, 2006

Ramrod obit.
posted by fixedgear at 1:33 PM on May 24, 2006

Y'know, Weir's tears might mean something if he hadn't fired the guy last year to make more money with ClearChannel.
posted by docgonzo at 8:50 PM on May 24, 2006

« Older EyezFilter   |   Glasgow lights Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments