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Dhafer Youssef

Late junction (BBC) presenter Fiona Talkington explains how an exceptional young Tunisian musician found his creative home in Europe.

A small seaside town in Tunisia in the 1970s. A boy walks along a deserted shoreline picking up the odds and ends he finds lying around: A broken fishing net; a few discarded sardine cans; spokes from an old bicycle. His heart and mind are full of music and he wants to play. It's as much as his father can do to put food on the table for Dhafer and his seven brothers and sisters. There certainly isn't spare money for music lessons, let alone for an instrument. So Dhafer makes his own oud, the traditional middle-Eastern lute, using whatever he can find.

You've only got to listen to the achingly beautiful first minute or so of Dhafer Youssef's last album Digital Prophecy to hear how the passion for music, born in that small Tunisian town, still lives on.

The young Dhafer did what was expected of him and sang, having learnt at the traditional Koran school, but at the same time, he was hearing music on the radio - the only source of entertainment in this small town. "It was just music. That's all I knew" says Dhafer "I didn't know what was classical what was jazz and so on. Just music..." And so, on his homemade oud, Dhafer taught himself to play by ear.

One day a friend came back from his travels with an electric guitar and a small toy one for his young nephew. Dhafer borrowed the toy for a week, at the same time secretly yearning to get his hands on the proper instrument. Eventually his friend began to lend it to him for a few days at a time: "days when I didn't sleep, the time was too precious. I just played."

As he began to earn money by singing at weddings, he saved enough to buy his first 'real' oud for the equivalent of 100 Euros. This was frowned on by friends and family. "God's given you a voice, you've got to sing."

But Dhafer had fallen in love with the sound of the instrument. It was the sound of his roots, the country where he was born. "If I'd been born in Africa I'd have been a drummer. In New York- a sax player. But I was born in Tunisia -I play the oud. If I'd been brought up near a piano maybe I'd have played that, but actually I didn't even see my first piano until I went to Vienna when I was 19."

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Birds Requiem

Jazzland Recordings
2013

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Abu Nawas Rhapsody

Jazzland Recordings
2010

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Live At Cully Jazz...

Jazzland Recordings
2008

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Live At The Bath...

Jazzland Recordings
2007

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