One of the shining stars in today’s avant-garde realm of world music will soon appear at the Royal Opera House Muscat – Dhafer Youssef. He comes to the Royal Opera House Muscat as the culmination a four-year world tour performing pieces from his beautiful Birds Requiem album for which he has received many nominations.
Dhafer Yousef’s story is a remarkable one. He grew up in the early 1970’s in a traditional fishing village in Tunisia where he came from a family of muezzins and was educated in a classic Qur’anic School. As a very young child, Dhafer was taken to Qur’anic recitals by his grandfather, a strict disciplinarian. At home in the kitchen, he would sing along to songs on his mother’s radio. Because of his unusually beautiful voice, Dhafer was asked to record the call to prayer. He was only five years old.
The child later discovered a love for jazz which he would pursue against all odds. As a young boy Dhafer made an oud out of wood scraps he collected on the beach as there was no money to buy a proper instrument. It was on his homemade oud that Dhafer taught himself to play by ear. From the start, Dhafer’s perspective was global and the radio was his window on the world: “Radio was the most important school for me. I was listening to the radio in my mother’s kitchen. I was listening to everything without making any judgment: rock, classical, Indian, Brazilian, African, everything.”
As time went on and Dhafer matured, he embarked a career in music by playing at weddings as well as singing with a radio group. Dhafer was then able to buy a proper oud, cementing his love for an instrument that had become his best friend. Eventually he decided it was time for new horizons and worked at whatever jobs he could find in order to earn enough money to go to Vienna where he knew he would discover a whole new world of possibilities.
In Vienna, Youssef felt impelled to abandon music studies in favour of active participation in the exciting live jazz scene that he discovered in the city’s jazz clubs. He teamed up with an Austrian percussionist to form a band called Zeryab, and in 1996 embarked a series of monthly concerts at a popular Viennese club called Porgy & Bess. Two years later, he released his first major album, Malak (Angel). In a recent interview with the BBC, Youssef commented,
“I was still working to survive. But, I have to say, Vienna was the most beautiful time of my life. It was a dream coming true: I was doing my own music, bringing alive the colours in my soul… At Porgy & Bess, I got to do in nine months what might have taken ten years.”
Acclaimed by critics, Youseff went on a tour across Europe. His career had taken off and he had forged an original and authentic identity as an artist. Youssef’s unique style of music combines mystical and jazz influences from World Music with Arab lyricism. With the simple purity of the oud, he performs in a beautiful, hauntingly atmospheric vocal style adding cool electronic effects and a range of original fusion sounds. Creating a subtle spiritual radiation, whether quietly soaring or flowing in currents, his music has an existential, another-worldly quality. In his 2005 release, Divine Shadows, string instruments were added for a more thrilling sound effect with ascendant spiritual overtones. He was nominated a second time in the BBC Awards for World Music.
Dhafer Youssef presented music that is cinematic in scope in his 2013 album, Birds Requiem, followed by Digital Prophecy, a layered, multi-faceted work which one critic described as “achingly beautiful”. He performs internationally, including as far abroad as New York, but his home performance places are in Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland, as well as Tunisia. Youssef has released six albums and has been honoured with a number of award nominations in Avant-Garde and World Music.
The Royal Opera House Muscat will present Dhafer Youssef and his band in concert on Tuesday the 20th of December at 7:00 pm. For further information and booking consult the ROHM website – www.rohmuscat.org.om