Hamza El Din

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Hamza El Din
Native name
حمزة علاء الدين
BornJuly 10, 1929
Toshka, Southern Egypt
DiedMay 22, 2006(2006-05-22) (aged 76)
Berkeley, California
GenresNubian music, sudanese music
Occupation(s)Composer, Musician, Vocalist
InstrumentsOud, Tar (drum)
LabelsVanguard Records, King Records, Sounds True, Water Lily Acoustics

Hamza El Din (July 10, 1929 – May 22, 2006) was a Nubian Egyptian/Sudanese composer, oud player, tar player, and vocalist.

Early life[edit]

Born in the village of Toshka in Southern Egypt, near Wadi Halfa in northern Sudan, he was originally trained to be an electrical engineer. After working in Cairo for the Egyptian national railroad, El Din changed direction and began to study music at the Cairo University, continuing his studies at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome; he also studied in Ibrahim Shafiq's Institute of Music and the King Fouad Institute for Middle Eastern Music, and traveled in Egypt on a government grant collecting folksongs. His performances attracted the attention of the Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan in the 1960s, which led to a recording contract and to his eventual emigration to the United States. Like much of Egyptian Nubia, his home village of Toshka was flooded due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s.


Following his appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, he recorded two albums for Vanguard Records released 1964–65; his 1971 recording Escalay: The Water Wheel (published by Nonesuch Records) is recognized as one of the first world music recordings to gain wide release in the West, and was claimed as an influence by some American minimalist composers, such as Steve Reich and Terry Riley as well as Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart.[1] He also performed with the Grateful Dead, most famously during their Egypt concerts of 1978.[1] In this period, he also mentored a number of musicians, including Sandy Bull. Later, he released albums for Lotus Records and Sounds True. His album Eclipse was produced by Mickey Hart. He performed with the Kronos Quartet on an arrangement of Escalay in 1992.[2] His pieces were often used in ballet performances and plays.

El Din held a number of teaching positions on ethnomusicology in the United States during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (in Ohio University, University of Washington, and the University of Texas at Austin),[3] eventually settling in Oakland, California after studying the biwa in Tokyo, Japan during the 1980s. In 1999, he released his last album, "A Wish". with Hani Naser.


He died on May 22, 2006, after complications following surgery for a gallbladder infection at a hospital in Berkeley, California. He is survived by his wife, Nabra.


  • 1964 – Newport Folk Festival 1964. Evening Concerts, Vol. 2. "Desse Barama [Peace]"
  • 1964 – Music of Nubia
  • 1965 – Al Oud
  • 1971 – Escalay: The Water Wheel
  • 1978 – Eclipse
  • 1982 – A Song of the Nile
  • 1990 – Journey
  • 1990 – Nubiana Suite: Live in Tokyo
  • 1992 - Pieces of Africa. "Escalay: The Water Wheel" with Kronos Quartet
  • 1995 – Lily of the Nile
  • 1996 – Available Sound: Darius
  • 1996 – Muwashshah
  • 1999 – A Wish
Contributing artist


  1. ^ a b Hamlin, Jesse (May 26, 2006). "Hamza El Din -- Nubian musician who played with Grateful Dead". sfgate.com. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  2. ^ Pareles, Jon (2006-05-25). "Hamza El Din, 76, Oud Player and Composer, Is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  3. ^ "Hamza El Din, 76; Musician Popularized North Africa's Ancient Traditional Songs". Los Angeles Times. May 30, 2006. Retrieved 18 June 2016.

External links[edit]