Album Review: Hossam Ramzy's 'Rock The Tabla'

Egyptian born, Hossam Ramzy, is the leader and chief percussionist of Pharaoh's Egyptian Ensemble, however, you may know them as the backing group featured on Robert Plant and Jimmy Page's No Quarter tour and album.

Having began learning the darabouka, the Egyptian equivalent to the tabla, at a very early age, he moved to England to study jazz drumming, and later, western classical music. Through his studies, his passion for music grew and his talent and love for combining eastern rhythms and melodies led him to a whole new dimension of sound creation. Ramzy's distinctive percussion was something new and exciting in Western Society in the early 70's, and soon caught the attention of artists such as Peter Gabriel, Joan Armatrading, Led Zeppelin, Sting, Chick Corea and more recently, latin pop diva, Shakira.

Ramzy's musical collaborations are vast, and with some of the biggest names in rock and pop on his roster, Rock The Tabla is certainly no exception. The album is a collaboration with some of his nearest and dearest, as well as world renowed artitsts in their own right, like A.R. Rahman (prolific film-score composer), Billy Cobham, Manu Katche, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Jimmy Waldo, Chaz Kkohi, Phil Thornton and John Themis.

The largely instrumental album is a musical journey from all corners of the earth taking influences and snippets from music styles such as Flamenco, Arabian, Greek, African and even includes the modern day feel of Cairo street music. The track, Dom & Doumbia is Ramzy's musical tribute to Malian musician, Salif Keita, which fuses the West African djembe with the Egyptian tabla, in a dualling call-and-response passage. Title track, Rock The Tabla, is an enchanting mix of two cultures and heritages; Turkish (which is very close to Egyptian culture), and western culture, of which Led Zeppelin were his influence. The two are so well combined that even the Jimmy Page-esque guitar solo doesn't seem out of place. From the outset, the drum beat and static, pulsing chords of the guitar, which sound instantly western, provide a solid foundation for the song, gradually building to a climax, whilst the rolling vocal of Houda El Sombaty's folk melodies sit beautifully balanced between the two.

Ramzy has no fear of combining syles that, to some ears, seem poles apart, but with electrifying beats and melodies along with time-honoured musical styles and traditions, Ramzy's music seems to effortlessly break the barriers of both rhythm and genre. Billy Dancing is perhaps the most complex composition on the album, featuring El Tessaawy - the 9 rhythm- and the Saidi rhythm - an Arabic rhythm used in the art of belly dancing. This particular rhythm uses a succession of ‘doms’ and ‘taks’ - 'Dom' being the bass beat and 'Tak' being the treble, slightly shaper in tone, sound, traditonaly produced on a tabla. Composed with drummer, Billy Cobham, this track is sure to get those feet dancing and those hips dropping. From hip hop beats to samba, latin and rock, there really is something for everyone to appreciate here, if not just the sheer musicianship and craft. Bonus track, This Could Lead To Dancing, is an amazing demonstration of how versatile the voice is, as it seemlessly keeps up with the percussion elements, perfectly imitating them and utilising itself as an integral instrument in the piece.

Although having studied a tiny snippet of what is so often generalised as 'World Music', during my mostly classical studies, the sounds and rhythms are still something completely different to me, but wholly fascinating and consuming. Rock The Tabla is a refreshing insight into the endless styles, practises, instrumentation and rhythmic and musical systems that can be found across the globe. And if that doesn't do anything for you, the infectious rhythms will definitely get your body moving! The album is available now via the Arc Music label.

The full track listing for Rock The Tabla is:

  1. Arabantana
  2. Cairo To India
  3. Six Teens
  4. Ancient Love Affairs
  5. Shukran Arigato
  6. Bluesy Fluesy
  7. Billy Dancing
  8. Sawagy
  9. Dom & Doumbia
  10. Rock The Tabla
  11. This Could lead To Dancing (Bonus Track)