When Revolver asked me to write about Dhafer Youssef, I failed to put words together because I am writing about a musician who expresses everything with music. A musician that gives you a feeling of joy and a feeling of sorrow in the same track. A musician whose voice is stronger than all words combined, a musician who made us all know that deep inside we have feelings no matter how much we try to hide them or pretend that we are feeling less. A musician who’s more than a musician, a prophet of the ancients.
Dhafer Youssef who comes from a long line of muezzins, mastering vocal performances is to him a family heritage and tradition. At an early age, he started discovering the potential of his voice and started practicing in his mother’s kitchen. He has developed an interest in jazz at an early age and later left Tunisia to pursue his Jazz Career mainly between Paris and Vienna.
In 1998, he released “Malak” under the Label Enja Records. In this album, the European Jazz melodic structures met the Mediterranean groove in a particular form. It was the beginning of an authentic musical identity that has the Dhafer’s origins without falling into typical orientalism.
In 2001, he recorded “Electric Sufi”. His second album with Enja Records was an experiment with electronic music and the sound mixture was glorified. It was an opportunity for him to experiment with his voice and use it further as an instrument. His distinctive signature was confirmed to be breathtaking during the tour that followed the release of the album.
In 2003, Dhafer returned to the studio to record “Digital Prophecy” in which he intensified sounds and had elated results. The combination between Oud and electric sounds created a never-heard-before hybrid which lead to 2 BBC Awards nominations for World Music.
After all that recognizable success, Dhafer was off for a new challenge in which he added more string instruments to his musical universe. That surreal combination was released under the name of “Divine Shadows” in 2005. The spiritual sounds were thrilling and his reputation as an enchanting musical explorer was immensely growing.
Although it’s a dual-leader album, “Glow” was released in 2006 quenching a thirst for a meditative east/west combination. Dhafer Youssef’s delivered a master’s performance and so did guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, who was a great contributor to Glow’s on-form presence. The album was a perfectly realized collision of oriental music, European Jazz and a pinch of visceral rock.
Dhafer released “Abu Nawas Rhapsody” in 2010, the album that destroyed all barriers between the notion of sacred and profane. In that album, his voice was introduced in a rarefied way. His artistic identity was intensified in that album: Jazzier, groovier and deeper.
Many of the collaborations during his career were a source of development and inspiration and made Dhafer add new dimensions to his sound. He collaborated with tabla player Zakir Hussain, a duet with Dave Holland and Digital Africa project with the amazing Kora master Ballake Sissoko and Eivind Aarset. For music lovers, this was a sound from heaven.
One of his career’s highlights was the receipt of an invitation to perform in the All-star global concert on International Jazz Day 2015. His participation in this grand concert that brings together the living jazz legends was a testimony to his talent and a global appreciation to his music.
Today, Dhafer Youssef is known to be the most inventive Oud player and the leader of the contemporary music that not only fuses Eastern and Western influences but also invents a new mold for the fusion to dwell within.
In 2013, he released “Birds Requiem”, an album that was recorded at a turning point in Dhafer’s life. The success of this album lead to 100 concerts, over 50,000 records sold and sold-out concerts.
On September 16, 2016 Dhafer Youssef released his album “Diwan of Beauty and Odd” that was recorded in the legendary sear studio with the finest musicians in the New York Jazz scene. In this album he delivered a fusion of oriental influences and the urban groove of New York.
There’s no combination of words that’ll do justice to describe Dhafer Youssef, so I suggest to get to know him better if you don’t already through this playlist we made 3 years ago of his Top 10 Songs: