Hamza El Din

Hamza El Din (July 10, 1929 – May 22, 2006) was a Nubian Egyptian/Sudanese composer, oud player, tar player, and vocalist. El Din was born in southern Egypt and studied the music of his native Egyptian Nubia. He subsequently lived and studied in Italy, Japan and the United States. El Din collaborated with a wide variety of musical performers, including Sandy Bull, the Kronos Quartet and the Grateful Dead.

Hamza El Din
Native name
حمزة علاء الدين
Born(1929-07-10)July 10, 1929
Toshka, Egypt
DiedMay 22, 2006(2006-05-22) (aged 76)
Berkeley, California, U.S.
GenresNubian music, sudanese music
Occupation(s)Composer, Musician, Vocalist
InstrumentsOud, Tar (drum)
LabelsVanguard Records, King Records, Sounds True, Water Lily Acoustics

Early life

Born in the village of Toshka in Southern Egypt, near Wadi Halfa (northern Sudan)[1], El Din was originally trained to be an electrical engineer. After working in Cairo for the Egyptian national railway, he 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. In 1963, El Din shared an apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area with folk musician Sandy Bull.[2]


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.[3] His pieces were often used in ballet performances and plays.

El Din held a number of teaching positions on ethnomusicology in the United States between the 1970s until the 1990s.[4] Some of these teaching positions included Ohio University, University of Washington, and the University of Texas at Austin.[4][5] In the 1980s he moved to Japan to study the biwa in Tokyo, Japan.[4] He eventually settled into living in Oakland, California.

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.[3] He is survived by his wife, Nabra.[1]


  • 1964 – Music of Nubia (Vanguard)
  • 1965 – Al Oud (Vanguard)
  • 1971 – Escalay: The Water Wheel (Nonesuch)
  • 1978 – Eclipse
  • 1982 – A Song of the Nile
  • 1990 – Journey
  • 1990 – Nubiana Suite: Live in Tokyo
  • 1995 – Lily of the Nile
  • 1996 – Available Sound: Darius
  • 1996 – Muwashshah
  • 1999 – A Wish
Contributing artist
As sideman or guest artist


  1. Hamlin, Jesse (2006-05-26). "Hamza El Din -- Nubian musician who played with Grateful Dead". SFGate. Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  2. Pareles, Jon (2001-04-14). "Sandy Bull, 60, a Master of Musical Fusion With Open Ears". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  3. Pareles, Jon (2006-05-25). "Hamza El Din, 76, Oud Player and Composer, Is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  4. "Hamza El Din, 76; Musician Popularized North Africa's Ancient Traditional Songs". Los Angeles Times. 2006-05-30. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  5. "Hamza El Din, 76; Musician Popularized North Africa's Ancient Traditional Songs". Los Angeles Times. May 30, 2006. Retrieved 18 June 2016.



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