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Dhafer Youssef

“Dhafer Youssef is one of the most important ambassadors of contemporary music, which fortunately escapes labels and fixed style designations. A delight for the ears.”
Edison Awards 2017

Dhafer Youssef is the Tunisian Oud master, vocalist and composer born on November 19th, 1967, in the Tunisian fishing village Teboulba. He grew up in a modest family, coming from a long line of muezzins. Mastering vocal potentials stands as a heritage and a family tradition.

At an early age, his grandfather initiates him to Quranic recitals in which he discovers his vocal potential. Dhafer Youssef starts singing the songs played on his mother’s radio set. His mother’s kitchen becomes his first experimental laboratory. At the age of 6, he discovers the resonance of his voice in his village’s Hammam. This fascinating discovery nourishes his ardent juvenile curiosity: Young Dhafer discovers his favorite toy.

Moved by the child’s beautiful voice, the local muezzin encourages him to carry out the call to prayer in the Mosque. Dhafer starts this task with a very cheap plastic microphone. His voice flows from the top of the minaret. There, he experiences his first encounter with an audience, a moment still engraved in his memory.

A few years later, Dhafer Youssef joins the local liturgical song troupe as a vocalist. Far from places of worship, Dhafer discovers a new toy at the youth center of Teboulba: The Oud. This is also where he discovers Electric Bass and more generally the so-called “groove”. After that, Young Dhafer is selected to join the Tunisian National Troupe by Mesbah Souli.

Aspiring to explore new horizons, Dhafer Youssef leaves his home village for Tunis. There he joins the musical conservatory at Nahj Zarkoun. Dissatisfied with the quality of teaching, he decides to leave for Vienna (Austria) to complete his musical training.

Early Career

In Vienna, the creative exaltation of multiculturalism and his encounters open a new world of possibilities. Whereas he studies musicology, Dhafer realizes that he is not interested in academic training anymore. Seduced by Jazz and other musical genres – such as Indian music – he takes part in numerous jam sessions at different bars and clubs. He then forms his first band called Zeryab with the Austrian percussionist Gerhard Reiter.

First recordings…
In 1996, his multiple discoveries and experiences give birth to his first demo Musafir (The Traveler, in Arabic). This demo is the result of an atypical encounter with Anton Burger, Achim Tang, Jatinder Thakur and Otto Leichner. He presents this project at the renowned Viennese club Porgy & Bess. After a successful first night, he is offered a Carte Blanche which consists in a series of monthly concerts at the club. There he meets Nguyên Lê, the French-Vietnamese guitarist that will later become he’s faithful music companion. He becomes friend with Paolo Fresu, an Italian trumpeter, who invites him to play throughout Europe.

Malak, the first album…
Dhafer gains in maturity over the concerts and confirms his steady development with the release in 1999 of his 1st album Malak with Enja Records. In this album, the European jazz melodic structures meet the particular Mediterranean groove. This marks the beginning of an authentic musical identity impregnated with the artist’s origins. Dhafer is then promised to an international career. Acclaimed by critics, he goes on a successful European Tour.

Electri Sufi…
In 2001, he records his 2nd album Electric Sufi with Enja Records. For this new album, he works with Wolfgang Muthspiel (Guitar), Markus Stockhausen (Trumpet), Deepak Ram (Bansuri), Dieter Ilg (Bass), Mino Cinelu (Percussions), Rodericke Packe (Electronics), Will Calhoun (Drums) and Doug Wimbish (Bass). This first experiment with Electronic music, allows him to use his voice as a distinctive instrument. Dhafer’s signature is confirmed during a brilliant Tour.

Digital Prophecy…
Back to the studio in 2003, Dhafer Youssef records Digital Prophecy. In this album, the search for new sounds intensifies. The result is exhilarating. The symbiosis between the Oud and the Electric sounds is increasingly organic. During the recording, a true alchemy operates with the Electro-Jazz Scandinavian musicians: Nils Petter Molvaer (Trumpet), Bugge Wesseltoft (Piano), Eivind Aarset (Guitar), Auden Erlien (Electric Bass) and Rune Arnesen (Frums). As Dhafer’s music acquires more height, he is nominated twice for the BBC Awards for World Music 2003.

Success & Achievements

Divine Shadows…
After these unlikely encounters between the Oud and the Electronic music, Dhafer Youssef sets a new challenge for himself. He wants to introduce more strings in his creative universe. This surreal equation is incarnated by the release of the 4th opus Divine Shadows in 2006. The sound is resolutely thrilling without losing its ethereal quality. Spiritualism is asserted, manifesting itself far from stereotypes. The album is beautified by the skills of Arve Henriksen and Marilyn Mazur, together with Dhafer’s now longtime companions Eivind Aarset, Audun Erlien, and Rune Arnesen. Divine Shadows secures a 3rd nomination to the BBC Awards for World Music 2006.

Abu Nawas Rhapsody…
Sufi philosophers and poets have always influenced Dhafer. Inspired by the 13th Century Persian poet, greatly known for his odes to wine in a conservative society, he writes his 5th opus Abu Nawas Rhapsody. Released in 2010, this album aims at removing barriers between the notions of Sacred and Profane. Accompanied by the pianist Tigran Hamasyan, the drummer Mark Giuliana and the double-bass player Chris Jennings, the Oud Master goes back to his Jazzy roots. Dhafer’s powerful voice appears subtly before the vigorous fusion of the instruments. Without forgetting his artistic identity forged throughout his career, the Tunisian composer transcends genres.

Side projects…
Since the beginning of his career, Dhafer has developed an unbridled curiosity in a constant search for renewal. This state of mind led him to conduct several side projects with musicians from every horizon: India, Norway, Armenia, Turkey Austria, USA, Mali…

Among those, he toured and recorded with Laurent Garnier, he toured with Zakir Hussain and L. Subramaniam in India, he formed duets with Dave Holland and Paolo Freso, he played with Bugge Wesseltoft and Bill Laswell… These collaborations have helped him shape new sounds. But also, it allowed him to forge ties that go beyond music.

Dhafer’s talent extends to the world of musical score. Critics praise his outstanding performance in the soundtrack of Black Gold composed and conducted by the legendary James Horner in 2011. In 2012, he wrote the soundtrack of The Amazing Spider-Man. In 2014, he composed for Dave McKean’s movie Luna and for Ridley Scott’s movie Gods and Kings.

Birds Requiem…
In 2013, the 7th album Birds Requiem is released. Built as a movie score, Birds Requiem is a very personal album that was recorded at a turning point of his life. His voice accompanies the Clarinet of Hüsnü Şenlendirici and the Kanun of Aytaç Doğan. He also asked his faithful companions to join him on the recording: Eivind Aarset on the Guitar, Nils Petter Molvaer on the Trumpet, Kristjan Randalu on the Piano, Phil Donkin on the Bass and Chander Sardjoe on the Drums.

This album becomes an international success with +100K units sold to date. Birds Requiem is ranked among the 10 Best Jazz Albums and Dhafer is listed as the Best 20 male vocalists by DownBeat Magazine. Praised by music critics, the release is followed by a triumphant World Tour with different orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra.

In 2015, Dhafer Youssef receives an invitation to perform in the All-Star Global Concert on International Jazz Day. Dhafer’s participation in this world class concert is a testimony to his talent and contribution to music. He’s then considered as the most inventive Oud player.

Diwan of Beauty and Odd…
The musical adventure of Dhafer takes him back to New York City in 2016, a cherished city where he had lived for a few years at the beginning of his career. It is in this vibrant city that the genesis of the most 2016’s anticipated album takes place.

Diwan of Beauty and Odd is recorded in the legendary Sear Sound Studio, with the finest musicians offered by the New York Jazz scene: Aaron Parks on the Piano, Ben Williams on the Bass, Mark Guiliana on the Drums and Ambrose Akinmusire on the Trumpet.

The 11 musical parts of Diwan of Beauty and Odd explore the most attractive dualities, the beautiful and the strange. With his extraordinary ability to transcend genres and the limits of simple meters, Dhafer plays with the asymmetrical quality of odd meters to deliver complex, beautiful yet apprehensible album. Diwan of Beauty and Odd is a fusion between the traditional oriental music and the New York “urban groove”.

Sounds of Mirrors…
His 8th album Sounds of Mirrors is unveiled in 2018. Middle East and South-West Asia music modes and rhythms echo together.

One can hear that the album was originally conceived to celebrate the Tabla player Zakir Hussain as the whump and rattle of his drumming gives the album urgency and drive. Turkish clarinetist Hüsnü Şenlendirici follows the flow with microtonal lyricism and echoes Youssef’s vocal lines. The album’s balance changes Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset bridging rhythm and lead with synthesized textures and slabs of sound.

The success of this album is triumphant as Dhafer embarks on a Worldwide Tour.

Dhafer Youssef in a few words…
Considered as of the contemporary music movement leader which fuses Eastern and Western music, Dhafer Youssef has managed to bring the Oud out of its traditional role. The Oud creatively confronts with various musical genres: Jazz, Electro, Rock, Turkish and Asian music.


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