Youssef Hbeisch

© Damuni Nicolas

Youssef Hbeisch lives between the Galilee, Paris, and the world’s stages. Born in the Galilee in 1967, he began playing percussion at the age of seven. His brother taught him the rudiments and was soon taking the child prodigy to play with him at weddings. He later studied philosophy and musicology, and conducted research into rhythm in different cultures. A specialist in Oriental percussion, he also has knowledge of various musical traditions (Indian, Cuban, African, Latin, etc.), which he incorporates into his playing to produce an innovative and refined style, which is prized by his fans.

Youssef was a teacher at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in East Jerusalem for seven years and taught for ten years at the Beit Al Musica Conservatory (Shefa Amr). He regularly gives seminars at universities and master classes in various countries. Providing therapy through art by running percussion workshops for battered women, handicapped children, and prisoners is also important for him. The aim is to develop personal expression, communication with others, and a group dynamic. These varied experiences led him to develop an original teaching method for rhythm and percussion.

He has given performances with Simon Shaheen, Süleyman Erguner, the modern jazz group Aka Moon, the Saltanah Ensemble with Dorsaf Hamdani, Issa Hassan (a Kurdish bouzouk player), and Ibrahim Maalouf, Sister Marie Keyrouz’s Ensemble de la Paix (religious music), the Occitan group Lo Cor de la Plana, and the Ensemble Araméa with Rula Safar (baroque music). He still plays with the French-based ensemble Bratsch, Elie Maalouf (jazz Oriental), Abed Azrié, Karloma and the Oriental Music Ensemble; and since 2007 he has accompanied the Joubran Trio.

For Youssef, music is the meeting point of the internal and external worlds. Playing music means giving. Having an audience is an added bonus. Exploiting all the possibilities of percussion enables him to describe these worlds – their moments and nuances – through sound. Caressing, brushing, and striking each instrument at the right moment and with the required force, is his way of expressing violence and gentleness, tenderness and cruelty, and security and brutality. His instruments are tools for expressing the melancholy of the tragedies in the Arab world: history’s heritage is a source of pride and inspiration but also a burden that no one should have to bear; and the internalized feeling of imprisonment is such that people impose limits on themselves. But Youssef has long since vanquished his internal ghetto, and the suffering conveyed in his playing is a universal one. The music speaks to anyone who has experienced certain types of conflict: barriers as opposed to liberty; confusion instead of stability; a terrible past against an ability to enjoy the present and build a future; and exile as opposed to … the obvious fact that ‘goes without saying’.

So, man’s inhumanity to man produces more of a sense of bitterness than nostalgia. Particularly evident is the pain of the effort needed to find the way forward – his solid roots give him the strength to raise himself up and show him the way towards infinity; and his art is also the expression of his spiritual quest.

Available album : Sabîl