Hamza El Din, the oud virtuoso and a powerful, understated vocalist, is an acknowledged master of Nubian music who has disseminated his culture in the west for over three decades and has made San Francisco home in recent years. In the past decade, a new wave of acclaim has been partly due to his involvement, as a composer and performer, in the Kronos Quartet's popular Pieces of Africa album.
El Din has worked up another spare and striking album of music, A Wish (Sounds True M110D; 56:36), on which he supplies the central core of A Wish, playing oud, the percussion instrument called the tar, and singing, sometimes in overdubbed layers. But outside input is also offered by Kronos cellist Jean Jeanrenaud, pianist W.A. Mathieu, nay player Amy Cyr, and Jordan-born percussionist Hani Naser. The album conveys a special, poignant thematic link to his heritage: his childhood village of Toshka was literally submerged under water in an Egyptian dam project in 1964.
The metaphor, and actuality, of traditional values buried by technology, is a powerful one, and a fitting point of reference for his songs that express, literally and by musical example, a longing for Nubian traditions. He sings, in the title song, "A Wish," "we are as inseparable from our Nubian ways as is a finger from a fingernail/Wherever we go, we carry our values with us."