Dhafer Youssef is the Tunisian Oud master, vocalist and composer born on November 19th, 1967, in the Tunisian fishing village Teboulba. He grew up in a modest family, coming from a long line of muezzins. Mastering vocal potentials stands as a heritage and a family tradition.
At an early age, his grandfather initiates him to Quranic recitals in which he discovers his vocal potential. Dhafer Youssef starts singing the songs played on his mother’s radio set. His mother’s kitchen becomes his first experimental laboratory. At the age of 6, he discovers the resonance of his voice in his village’s Hammam. This fascinating discovery nourishes his ardent juvenile curiosity: Young Dhafer discovers his favorite toy.
Moved by the child’s beautiful voice, the local muezzin encourages him to carry out the call to prayer in the Mosque. Dhafer starts this task with a very cheap plastic microphone. His voice flows from the top of the minaret. There, he experiences his first encounter with an audience, a moment still engraved in his memory.
A few years later, Dhafer Youssef joins the local liturgical song troupe as a vocalist. Far from places of worship, Dhafer discovers a new toy at the youth center of Teboulba: The Oud. This is also where he discovers Electric Bass and more generally the so-called “groove”. After that, Young Dhafer is selected to join the Tunisian National Troupe by Mesbah Souli.
Aspiring to explore new horizons, Dhafer Youssef leaves his home village for Tunis. There he joins the musical conservatory at Nahj Zarkoun. Dissatisfied with the quality of teaching, he decides to leave for Vienna (Austria) to complete his musical training.
In Vienna, the creative exaltation of multiculturalism and his encounters open a new world of possibilities. Whereas he studies musicology, Dhafer realizes that he is not interested in academic training anymore. Seduced by Jazz and other musical genres – such as Indian music – he takes part in numerous jam sessions at different bars and clubs. He then forms his first band called Zeryab with the Austrian percussionist Gerhard Reiter.
In 1996, his multiple discoveries and experiences give birth to his first demo Musafir (The Traveler, in Arabic). This demo is the result of an atypical encounter with Anton Burger, Achim Tang, Jatinder Thakur and Otto Leichner. He presents this project at the renowned Viennese club Porgy & Bess. After a successful first night, he is offered a Carte Blanche which consists in a series of monthly concerts at the club. There he meets Nguyên Lê, the French-Vietnamese guitarist that will later become he’s faithful music companion. He becomes friend with Paolo Fresu, an Italian trumpeter, who invites him to play throughout Europe.