“My music is very much part of what is happening in Egypt today” – Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy
Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy realizes a 10-year dream with his latest album ‘Rock The Tabla’ – to be released later this month, on August 30. For this album, Hossam decided to invite some of his friends and the musicians he most respects and admires to join in: and these include legends A. R. Rahman, Billy Cobham, Manu Katché and Omar Faruk Tekbilek!
From Led Zeppelin to Shakira, Hossam has worked with some of the biggest stars and most talented musicians in the world. Ramzy first heard Billy Cobham playing on the Mahavishnu Orchestra album ‘Birds of Fire.’ A.R. Rahman contacted Ramzy in 2002 to play on the soundtrack of the film ‘Meenaxi: A Tale of 3 Cities.’ Ramzy had previously worked with Manu Katché on Peter Gabriel’s albums, and Omar Faruk Tekbilek on a tour of Australia.
Ramzy left Egypt for England in the mid-1970s to explore a career as a jazz drummer, and later blended ethnic Egyptian percussion with a range of Western styles and musicians. Earlier this year he released the album “Egypt Unveiled.” Ramzy dedicated the music of this album “to every Egyptian man, woman, child and elder who stood up to the suppression and who are creating the future of history to come.”
Hossam Ramzy joins us for an exclusive interview to discuss his new album, the musical forms and collaborations, and future work.
Q: Tell us how you got inspired to do the piece “Billy Dancing” in your album!
I got inspired to create this song while I was thinking of writing a piece that will incorporate the amazing world drummer Mr. Billy Cobham. He and I jammed together on many occasions and this rhythm in 9s is one of our favorites. Then I thought how about incorporating a true southern Egyptian Saidi Rhythm that we love to dance to!!! And it worked very well as a question and answer platform between the two of us. And as the Egyptian style of dance is known worldwide as “Belly Dancing”, I thought to myself… How appropriate to call it “Billy Dancing”! He loved the idea too.
Q: How would you compare the Indian tabla with Egyptian tabla?
The are so many similarities and so many differences. The main difference is that the Egyptian tabla is a one drum instrument, while the Indian tabla is in two parts: dayan & bayan. Another important point is the Indian tabla can be tuned to various notes. The Egyptian tabla has two basic sounds from the same drum: a dom and a tack.
The Indian tabla can be played as a solo instrument and as accompaniment to the rest of the group. The Egyptian tabla is played as part of an ensemble of percussion instruments such as the duff (frame drum), req (fish skin Tambourine), doholla (bass Egyptian tabla), mazhar (large frame drum with cymbals) and also the sagat (finger cymbals).
The Egyptian tabla keeps the rhythm and decorates musical phrases, same as the Indian tabla. We work in cycles of rhythm, same as in the Indian tabla. We do not usually cross pollinate rhythms and cycles as we play within a unit frame of cycles — unlike an Indian tabla player who would be given the freedom to cycle around in different counts while keeping the main frame of the rhythmic cycle apparent to the listener and the rest of the orchestra.
There is so much to say… but these are main and most basic points I can think of!
Q. How has your experience been in collaborating with A.R. Rahman?
It was a magical experience. AR is such an incredible artist who is one of the most generous people I have ever met in my experience within the music industry. A truly knowledgeable composer and musician who understands music from every corner of the planet.
He invited me to his home and studios in Chennai where I was given a brotherly welcome. He was very busy with all the interviews by almost all the press, radio and TV stations in the continent after winning the Oscars for the film “Slumdog Millionaire”. Still, AR made the time especially for me, took the time to arrange the song “From Cairo To India” and supervised every step of the recording. This included percussion, strings and vocals too.
I was so pleased with my visit there, I am looking forward to going back to work with him again and again!
Q. What future albums/videos do you have in mind?
Right now, I have a few projects that I am working on. One of them is a video clip for the song with AR, which we will film in both Egypt and India. I am working on an instructional Belly Dance DVD for dancing to drum solos from my Trilogy “Sabla Tolo I, II & III”. This should take the best part of what is left of 2011 and some of 2012.
I am also producing work for a few artists for the mainstream world of music: one is Miss Sebnem Bamsey from Turkey and the other is Miss Cora from the US.
Q:. How would you place your music today in the context of the changes happening in Egypt?
This is a very interesting question. My music is very much part of what is happening in Egypt today. I believe in coincidences and I believe in synchronicity. I released an album earlier this year, and it happened to be on the day it all started in Tahreer Square in Cairo! The 25th of January 2011. This date was decided in advance by the director of ARC Music Productions, not me. And guess what was the name of the album, which was chosen 10 months before the release date: “Egypt Unveiled!”
Author: Madanmohan Rao
Madanmohan Rao is an author and media consultant from Bangalore, and global correspondent for world music and jazz for World Music Central and Jazzuality. He has written over 15 books on media, management and culture, and is research director for YourStory Media. Madan was formerly World Music Editor at Rave magazine and RJ at WorldSpace, and can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao.