Born in the village of toshka, near wadi halfa in north sudan, he was originally trained to be an electrical engineer. after working in cairo for the egyptian national railroad, el din changed direction and began to study music at the cairo university, continuing his studies at the accademia nazionale di santa cecilia in rome; he also studied in ibrahim shafiq’s institute of music and the king fouad institute for middle eastern music, and traveled in egypt on a government grant collecting folksongs. his performances attracted the attention of the grateful dead, joan baez, and bob dylan in the 1960s, which led to a recording contract and to his eventual emigration to the united states. like much of egyptian nubia, his home village of toshka was flooded due to the construction of the aswan high
dam in the 1960s.
following his appearance at the newport folk festival in 1964, he recorded two albums for vanguard records released 1964–65; his 1971 recording escalay: the water wheel (published by nonesuch records) is recognized as one of the first world music recordings to gain wide release in the west, and was claimed as an influence by some american minimalist composers, such as steve reich and terry riley as well as grateful dead percussionist mickey hart. he also performed with the grateful dead, most famously during their egypt concerts of 1978. in this period, he also mentored a number of musicians, including sandy bull. later, he released albums for lotus records and sounds true. his album eclipse was produced by mickey hart. he performed with the kronos quartet on an arrangement of escalay in 1992. his pieces were often used in ballet performances and plays.
El Din held a number of teaching positions on ethnomusicology in the united states during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (in ohio university, university of washington, and the university of texas at austin), eventually settling in the oakland, california after studying the biwa in tokyo, japan during the 1980s. in 1999, he released his last album, “a wish”.
he died on may 22, 2006, after complications following surgery for a gallbladder infection at a hospital in berkeley, california. he is survived by his wife, nabra.
1964 – newport folk festival 1964. evening concerts, vol. 2. “desse barama [peace]”
1964 – music of nubia
1965 – al oud
1971 – escalay: the water wheel
1978 – eclipse
1982 – a song of the nile
1990 – journey
1990 – nubiana suite: live in tokyo
1992 – pieces of africa. “escalay: the water wheel” with kronos quartet
1995 – lily of the nile
1996 – available sound: darius
1996 – muwashshah
1999 – a wish