Tunisian Jazz meets Indian Classical music

As Tunisian Jazz musician Dhafer Youssef readies for the Fusion Music Concert with Zakir Hussain and Niladri Kumar — his debut performance in India — the oud player talks of how this stringed Middle Eastern instrument complements the tabla and sitar, the relevance of Jazz and why he doesn’t want to be labelled as a Sufi artiste

Q. How did the idea of collaborating with Zakir Hussain and Niladri Kumar for this concert emerge?
A. Last summer, I had the pleasure to collaborate with Zakir Hussain on Sounds Of Mirrors for three concerts, a project that featured myself on oud and vocals, Zakir on percussion and Hüsnü Senlendirici on the clarinet. It was a long-desired collaboration, which ended in a genuine musical experience. So, when Zakir invited me to the Fusion Music Concert in Mumbai along with Niladri Kumar, the decision came naturally. I had to accept.

Dhafer Youssef
Dhafer Youssef

Q. While oud has its origins in the Middle East, tabla and sitar are rooted to Indian Classical music. Have you tweaked your style for this concert?
A. Despite their different origins, these instruments can be complementary. Their respective singular sonorities intermingle in a way of dialogue to give birth to an utterly authentic sound. The adaptation lies more in how the musicians respond to one another on stage than in a change of one’s style.

Q. Do you prefer recording for an album or performing on stage?
A. They are incomparable processes, each with its own specificity and satisfaction. When recording an album in the studios, one is cut off from the world. However, I conceive the experience of being on stage as the organic continuation of recording. Once the album is recorded, it takes shape fully on stage in front of
the audience.

Q. You’re known to have an affinity towards Indian music. Was it a part of your growing up years?
A. As a youngster, I was curious about all types of music. Later, in my career I discovered that Indian music had contributed in forging my musical universe. I deeply appreciate great artists like Jatinder Thakur who collaborated with me on my previous albums. I also admire Zakir’s work.

Q. With new and more popular music genres emerging, will Jazz lose its relevance, especially in India?
A. Jazz is far from losing its relevance. I guess that’s also true in India. This living musical genre has been evolving for more than a hundred years feeding on different influences and it will keep doing so.

Q. You’ve also dabbled with Sufi and Qawwali in your albums. Do these genres find takers across the world?
A. I guess so. As far as I am concerned, I came from the Sufi tradition. I am interested in this philosophy as it pushes me to think further. However, and even if I appreciate authors like El Hallej, I don’t want to be labelled as Sufi artist because I also get my inspiration from other’s elements, music, readings and experiences.

This is your first performance in India but is it also your maiden trip to the country?
I’ve been here many times before. I love Indian culture and the way of life. It’s an open source of inspiration, both musically and spiritually. I’m always eager to merge further into the culture and atmosphere around here.

In your over decade-long career, you've collaborated with many musicians for your albums. Which has been your most memorable collaboration?
A. Every single album is marked by various collaborations from multiple musical styles and genres. They are the outcome of different encounters. Thus, each collaboration is memorable as they carry their own identity and atmosphere.

What are you working on next?
A. The upcoming projects are Birds Requiem album tour, which continues in 2015. I also have new project in parallel for the near future.

Any plans to collaborate with Indian musicians in near future?
A. As of now, I am focusing on my present collaboration with Zakir Hussain and would be glad to push it further.

On: Today, 7 pm
At: Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
Call: 66223737

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