Oud master, vocalist and composer Dhafer Youssef is at the vanguard of a movement in contemporary music that brings East and West together. One of the most inventive oud players, he has succeeded in freeing the instrument from its traditional role and bringing it into jazz.
Together with two masters of their instruments and boundary-breakers, Dhafer Youssef explores his African roots with a new and modern perspective.
Ballaké Sissoko’s kora playing echoes Dhafer’s approach to the traditional instrument : at the same time grounded in its history and deeply personal. Both of them met in 2016 during a residency at the Musée des Confluences in Lyon, and bounded over this similar vision of their respective instruments.
One of Dhafer’s longtime friends, Eivind Aarset displays his wide sonic palette, that stretches from Nordic influences to African rhythms. His textures on guitar bring an acoustic-electric blend that gives density and depth to the sound of the group.
"Digital Africa" appears as a milestone in Dhafer Youssef’s career : it’s the project of the wisdom, where the mastery is about telling new stories with a few things.
The unexpected combination of oud, kora and electric guitar sounds obvious and relevant in the hands of these musical accomplices, and the trio allows space at the same time for expression and dialogue. Digital Africa is the promise of many surprises !
Dhafer Youssef’s compositions for this new project are influenced by the African music he was listening to when he was younger, but also by Ballaké Sissoko’s original way of playing the kora, which connects to the rhythmic style and patterns of the oud. On top of this, the electric tones of Eivind Aarset’s guitars finally give to the project’s title its full meaning : Digital Africa !
Tunisian singer and oud player Dhafer Youssef released his studio album Sounds Of Mirrors on Anteprima Productions on October 5th 2018, featuring Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain, Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset and Turkish clarinettist Husnu Senlendirici. Weaving together the musical tapestry of Tunisia with sounds from around the globe, Youssef’s music continues to defy classification, blurring the boundaries between multiple genres.
Some musicians experience a sacred and deeply intimate relation with their art. When a 19-year-old Dhafer Youssef discovered Indian music in Vienna, where he was studying classical music, it had the effect of a bewildering epiphany on him. Hindu sonorities struck a deep chord within Youssef’s musical soul – thirty years later, the Tunisian composer reminisces: “I was both filled with wonder as well as deeply convinced that one day I would be performing alongside the most legendary players of Indian music”. A memorable show from Ali Akbar Khan, the master of Indian sarod, at the Wiener Konzerthaus in Vienna came to seal the deal for the vocalist and oud master. From then on, Dhafer Youssef lived and breathed Indian music. Or was it Indian music that had appointed him to become its messenger?
Some dreams last longer than others, and some premonitions feel like prophecies. Nine records later, the travelling musician who contributed to bring oud to jazz music had fulfilled his dream of playing Indian music and had invited percussionist Zakir Hussain on stage with him for a few shows while touring France. The match was made in heaven but a touch of colour was still missing – that of a wind instrument. Dhafer Youssef then brought along another ‘soulmate’, Turkish clarinettist Husnu Selenderici. The trio’s live performances eventually gave shape to the twelve tracks of Sounds Of Mirrors. The recording started in Mumbai then carried on in Istanbul where ethereal Norwegian jazz guitarist Eivin Aarset joined the one-of-a-kind adventure. The record, which was originally meant to be a tribute to Zakir Hussain and table, then took an unexpected turn. “Keeping Indian culture as a background, I felt that we could angle for something more universal… This recording felt to me like an ode to friendship and fraternity. When we were playing together, I could feel quite distinctly that we were as kindred spirits mirroring each other. Hence the name of the album, Sounds of Mirrors” Youssef explains.
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