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Hossam Ramzy obituary

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    Posted: 23 Sep 2019 at 9:25am
One of Egypt’s leading percussionists who was an arranger, composer and entrepreneur Hossam Ramzy, who has died at the age of 65 while undergoing treatment for a heart condition, was Egypt’s most successful percussionist.

A versatile and famously hard-working performer, arranger, composer and entrepreneur, he became the go-to player for a wide array of international musicians keen to introduce a North African or Middle Eastern edge to their music, working with everyone from jazz and North African musicians to rock stars, including Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

He wrote and played on film soundtracks, released albums of Egyptian dance music and ran a dance school. He may not have been a household name, but his music was heard by millions.

Born in the fashionable Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, he came from a successful family. His father, Abbas Ibrahim Hassan, was an entomologist, while his mother Omayma Ramzy was a fine pianist and player of the oud, the predecessor of the lute. Hossam was given his first instrument – an Egyptian tabla, or goblet-shaped hand drum – at the age of three, and became fascinated by percussion. Encouraged by his mother, he learned to accompany her performances and went on to study western drum styles and the piano while at junior school.

When he was a teenager his father moved to Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, to work, and there Hossam studied with local composers and learned new rhythms from the Bedouin musicians he visited in the desert.

Returning to Egypt in the early 1970s he worked as a drummer in the Cairo clubs. Despite the wishes of his father, who did not want him to become a musician, he moved to Britain in 1975, and began playing drums for such rising jazz players as the saxophonist Andy Sheppard. He also played with what was then the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra, ran his own jazz/funk group and worked as a cook (he was an excellent one) in London restaurants.

In 1980 he dramatically changed his musical direction. A friend invited him to an Arabic club in London, where an Egyptian band were playing and he was reintroduced to the music he had heard as a child. It was, he said “a night of transformation for me. I never thought that from Egyptian drums there could be such a marvellous sound.”

He went back to Cairo, bought tabla drums, and came back to London to start practising, using techniques he had learned as a jazz musician to develop his own style. Instead of using sticks and a drum kit, he was now drumming with his fingers on a clay pot with a fish skin head.

Ramzy quickly established a new musical reputation, working in nightclubs and providing the backing for Egyptian and British dancers. He held workshops for dancers interested in Egyptian styles, and it was for this market that he recorded his first album, Introduction to Egyptian Dance Rhythms.

The timing was perfect. The 80s saw the start of the so-called “world music” scene. British audiences were taking a growing interest in global sounds and rhythms – and so too were British pop stars.

Hossam’s breakthrough came when Gabriel heard his album and invited him to play on his soundtrack for Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ, which was released as a Peter Gabriel album, Passion, in 1989. It included such global celebrities as Youssou N’Dour and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Ramzy can be heard on five tracks, including the opening The Feeling Begins, playing tabla, finger cymbals and other percussion.

In the same year he also appeared on Passion Sources, an album of music that inspired Gabriel’s writing. He continued to work with Gabriel on a series of projects, including the album Us (1992). Gabriel described him as a “great musician and good friend … a soulful percussionist who was a great champion for many musicians from his part of the world”.

Ramzy’s second major breakthrough came in 1994 when he was invited by the Led Zeppelin stars Robert Plant and Jimmy Page to assemble a band of Arabian string players and percussionists to work on their live reunion album No Quarter – Unledded. It was a bestseller, certified triple platinum, and Ramzy went on to accompany them on their 1995-96 world tour.

But he was not only interested in accompanying western stars. In September 1998 he was lead percussionist and director of the Egyptian orchestra flown in to accompany three major Algerian singers, Rachid Taha, Khaled and Faudel at the 1, 2, 3 Soleils concert at the Bercy stadium in Paris. The event led to a bestselling live double album, and was, according to Taha, the first concert of North African rai music to be given serious coverage in the French media.

As a percussionist or arranger, Ramzy worked with an astonishing number of different musicians, from jazz players including Chick Corea to the Rolling Stones, Shakira, Natacha Atlas and Sting. His film soundtrack work ranged from Stargate to The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

His own albums included the ambitious global fusion set Rock the Tabla (2011), which included guests from across the world including the Bollywood keyboard player and composer AR Rahman, and the veteran jazz-fusion drummer Billy Cobham. It was nominated for a Songlines award the following year.

His final projects included percussion work for the American blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa on his Live at Carnegie Hall acoustic album (released 2017) and for the Canadian composer and multi-instrumentalist Loreena McKennitt at the Albert Hall in London earlier this year.

As a dance enthusiast, Hossam ran the Drumzy School of Music & Dance in East Grinstead, West Sussex, teaching “belly dancing and Egyptian rhythm and music”. He loved horses and was an excellent rider and semi-professional show jumper.

Married three times, he was separated from his third wife, Serena. He is survived by his three children, Louvaine, Omayma and Amir.

Hossam Ramzy, percussionist, arranger and composer, born 15 December 1953; died 10 September 2019

from www.theguardian.com

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