Artist Profiles: Dhafer Youssef

Dhafer Youssef
Dhafer Youssef

Dhafer Youssef is a creative ud (Arabic lute) player from Tunisia. He’s also an excellent vocalist and prolific composer. Youssef mixes traditional Sufi music, world music, and jazz influences with Arabic lyricism.

Dhafer Youssef was born November 19th, 1967 in Tebulba. The son of a modest family from this Tunisian fishing village, he comes from a
long line of muezzins. Although he received vocal training as a young boy, Dhafer became interested in the ud. He played it at the youth center in Tebulba, where he also discovered the electric bass and various rhythms.

Seeking new possibilities, Dhafer Youssef moved to Tunisia’s capital, Tunis. He enrolled in the musical conservatory at Nahj Zarkoun. Disappointed with his experience there, he moved to Austria to complete his musical training.

Vienna’s multicultural scene opened the door to new options. Dhafer studied musicology, but soon realized he was more interested in jazz and Indian music. He participated in numerous jam sessions and met Austrian percussionist Gerhard Reiter. The two musicians formed a band called Zeryab.

Dhafer Youssef - Photo by Wolfgang Gonaus
Dhafer Youssef – Photo by Wolfgang Gonaus

In 1996, Dhafer Youssef released his first album “Musafir” (The Traveler, in Arabic). This album was the result of an encounter with Anton Burger, Achim Tang, Jatinder Thakur and Otto Leichner. He presented this project at Porgy & Bess, the renowned Viennese club.

At Porgy & Bess he met Nguyen Lê, the French guitarist of Vietnamese origin and Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu who invites him to several performances throughout Europe.

In 1998, Dhafer released “Malak” (Enja Records). Three years later he recorded “Electric Sufi” (Enja Records), an album that featured Wolfgang Muthspiel on guitar, Markus Stockhausen on trumpet, Deepak Ram on bansuri, Dieter Ilg on bass, Mino Cinelu on percussion, Rodericke Packe on electronics, Will Calhoun on drums and Doug Wimbish on bass.

In 2003, Dhafer Youssef recorded “Digital Prophecy,” a world jazz symbiosis between the ud and electric instruments. This time, the lineup featured Scandinavian musicians: Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet, Bugge Wesseltoft on piano, Eivind Aarset on guitar, Auden Erlien on electric bass, and Rune Arnesen on drums.
“Divine Shadows” came out in 2005, followed by “Abu Nawas Rhapsody” (2010) where he was accompanied by pianist Tigran Hamasyan, drummer Mark Giuliana and double bass player Chris Jennings.

In 2011, Dhafer invited Turkish clarinetist Hüsnü Senlendirici and kanun player Aytaç Dogan to a performance in Ludwigsburg (Germany). Inspired by this meeting, Dhafer Youssef released “Birds Requiem” (2013).

Dhafer returned to New York City in 2016, a city where he lived for a few years. There, he recorded “Diwan of Beauty and Odd” with New York jazz scene musicians: Aaron Parks on piano, Ben Williams on bass, Mark Guiliana on the drums and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet.

Discography:

Musafir (1996)
Malak (Enja, 1999)
Electric Sufi (Enja, 2001)
Digital Prophecy (Justin Time, 2003)
Exile, with Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble (Enja, 2003)
Odem, with Wolfgang Puschnig and Jatinder Thakur) (EmArcy, 2005)
Divine Shadows (Jazzland, 2006)
Homescape, with Nguyên Lê and Paolo Fresu (ACT, 2006)
Glow, with Wolfgang Muthspiel (Material, 2007)
Jo & Co, with Anna Maria Jopek (Universal Music Poland, 2008)
Latitudini – Omaggio Alla World Music, with Paolo Fresu and Eivind Aarset (Casa Del Jazz, 2008)
Abu Nawas Rhapsody (EmArcy, 2010)
Birds Requiem (Okeh, 2013)
Diwan of Beauty and Odd (Okeh, 2016)

website: dhaferyoussef.com

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.

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