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14 juillet 2008

Pharaoh of Egyptian tunes


Hossam Ramzy's passion for traditional Middle Eastern rhythms has led him to collaborations with household names in music. Hizreen Kamal hears about his musical explorations.

He is one of Egypt's most formidable talents — a brilliant music producer, composer and arranger.

Cairo-born percussionist Hossam Ramzy has successfully introduced Egyptian sounds into mainstream music, and these sounds are now heard in albums of various genre.

The 55-year-old musician has collaborated and performed with many renowned recording artistes such as Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), Chick Corea, Sting, Rachid Taha, Rolling Stones, Deborah Harry, Big Country and Paul Young.

"It's an achievement to see many major artistes incorporating the rhythmic grace of Arabian sounds into their music," said Hossam who was in town for shows at Dewan Filharmonik Petronas on July 7 and 8. With 18 solo Egyptian dance music albums under his belt, he has performed in many countries like Hungary, Portugal, England and Argentina, and hopes to go to Brazil next. Hossam also aims to collaborate with Asian artistes.

"My main interest now is to collaborate with artistes from the rest of the world. I have done a lot with Western artistes but I haven't had the pleasure of working with those from Asia. Now we are in a midst of doing a project with a Malaysian artiste for a charity song for the Malaysian community. However, I can't tell you much about it because we are still discussing it," he said.

Hossam expressed his delight at performing before Malaysians for the first time. Hossam is also in awe of Malaysia's architecture. "I didn't know much about Malaysia. I was shocked to see the Petronas Twin Towers... I thought I was in Hong Kong!. I wish we had that in Cairo," he quipped.

Hossam's virtuosity is also demonstrated on scores for film soundtracks, which include The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, The Last Temptation Of Christ, The Saint, Stargate, Stealing Beauty and Wings Of A Dove. He is currently working on music scores for two films titled Lebanon and Cairo Times.

As an Egyptian percussionist, the Egyptian tabla (drum) features as Hossam's main instrument. He was introduced to it at the tender age of three, and so, his musical career began."When I heard it for the first time, I thought there were three to four drums being played. It's fascinating that one instrument can produce all those sounds."

Hossam went on to study under leading Cairo music teachers. A move to Saudi Arabia put him in contact with several Bedouin tribes, and this allowed the young Hossam to gain insight into the cultural origins of Middle Eastern music, which eventually inspired his rhythmic directions.

"I learned a lot from the Bedouins who have a different take on rhythm. The music you hear in Saudi Arabia is a mix of Indian, Persian and Yemanite influences.

Like many of the other artistes, the young Hossam had a false impression about the whole music scene. He became a jazz drummer in England in the mid 1970s, working with jazz musicians like Andy Sheppard and Geoff Williams.

"At that time, before MTV was invented, everyone thought jazz bands had the greatest style, only to realise later that these bands were actually trying to copy Arabic rhythms."

He found himself coming back full circle to his first love — the Egyptian drums — and the thrilling dance rhythms of the Middle East. Hossam then used all his rhythmic experiences to create a new sound that is heard on many best-selling albums. The club scene of 2001 was taken by storm by Hossam's number 1 hit Edony, which topped the dance charts worldwide.

The distinctive Arabian and North African string arrangements, percussion and exciting rhythms on his albums caught the imagination of Peter Gabriel, and Hossam was invited to perform on Gabriel's album Passion. Gabriel is one of Hossam's idols.

Hossam's dream will soon turn to reality, when a huge complex, boasting recording studios and dance studios in Cairo, is completed. He says of his project: "The arts centre will also have living accommodation for artistes who come to the complex. We are introducing a world music label based on Middle Eastern music, with music collaborations with artistes from around the world," said Hossam, who travels between homes in England and Egypt.

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