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Yehya Khalil was born in Cairo, Egypt and from his early childhood experienced a natural rhythm pulsating through his day-to-day life. He literally began drumming as a toddler using any utensils he found readily available, and any surface that could withstand his passionate hands.



 
Unlike most children, Yehya was in no way uncertain about what he wanted to be when he grew up - "a percussionist".It was not until his father brought home the family's first radio that Yehya discovered his Jazz music was his true calling. At the time, Jazz was literally unheard of in Egypt, let alone the alternative musical genre that it was in the West. But for the avant-garde Yehya, it was the perfect vessel for his passion for music and his untamed rhythmic energy. 


 
All the way across the Atlantic from the United States and into his dimly lit bed room in the chic suburb of Heliopolis, the airwaves of the Voice of America introduced the young Yehya to a musical form that would guide the outcome of the rest of his life.Intent on introducing Jazz in Egypt, Yehya began a musical crusade that would continue through out his life, pitting him against mainstream and established pop cultures. As a mere adolescent, Yehya Khalil could be accredited for single handedly founding the Egyptian jazz scene in 1957 when he formed the Cairo Jazz Quartet. Playing in any venue that would have them, often for free, Yehya and his disciples were not only competing against Arabic music and culture, but other more commercial forms of Western music such as Rock and Roll, and the impending onslaught of Beatle mania that were already making a strong headway in Egypt.


 
Frustrated with his own limitations and his homelands impermeable cultural wall, Yehya began to dream of the American jazz scene to which he was privy to through his radio and an expansive record collection that consumed most of his income. From Miles Davis to Duke Ellington, American jazz had flared up Yehya's imagination and creative juices to the extent that he was convinced that experiencing Jazz at its source was the only way toward his own artistic maturity.


 
By 1965, Egypt was under the socialist rule of President Nasser and only two years away from a defining war with Israel. Travel per se was restricted, and his dream to make his journey to America, the Mecca of Jazz, was fraught with financial and political obstacles. Through fortune and his numerous social contacts, Yehya Khalil hooked up with a Lebanese musical promoter and producer who promised to assist him to immigrate to the United States on the condition that Yehya travel first to Lebanon to perform while he waited for his paper work to go through. Desperate for his move West, Yehya would have to travel East to Beirut for his ultimate destination. 


 
For almost a year, Yehya fused effortlessly with Beirut's lively musical scene that was at the time far more advanced than Cairo. Nevertheless, when almost one year later his paperwork came through, Yehya Khalil did not think twice about making his move to the United States, New York to be precise.Armed only with his passport, $600, and an address of an old acquaintance he knew in Cairo who had since moved to New York, Yehya Khalil landed in America in 1966 on a cold, rainy night. 


 
New York's breath taking skyline was almost enough to overshadow the brutal reality of America's busy urban life when he discovered his friend was not at his apartment contrary to a pre-agreed appointment. His first night in American was spent with his luggage on the streets of Manhattan waiting for his friend who would only come back in the early morning hours of the next day.Cultural shock aside, Yehya was on a mission to suck up like a sponge all that America had to offer in the way of Jazz. Soon after his arrival, Yehya managed to land himself a number of small gigs in jazz clubs in Brooklyn catering predominantly to African Americans. 


 
To his surprise, Yehyha discovered that what he thought were his limited musical skills were already ripe for America, let alone a discerning black audience.But it took a woman Yehya was seeing at the time to convince him that the real jazz scene was in Chicago rather than New York. Almost a year after his maiden landing, Yehya packed the drum set he had purchased in New York and headed to Chicago, even after breaking up with the woman who had first planted the idea in his head. Luck would have it that Yehya's first apartment in Chicago was a couple of blocks away from the Mother's Blues club where for the first time he saw the great musicians he had previously heard on radio perform in the flesh. The list included Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, Gabor Zabo, and West Montgomery.After landing a few small gigs here and there that paid the bills, Yehya's first serious musical engagement came one day with an aggressive knock on his door. 


 
Convinced it was the police responding to a complaint against his loud rehearsals, Yehya was instead met with his equally loud neighbor, a black saxophone player who came to recruit Yehya as his drummer. Within weeks, Yehya and the saxophonist were playing in an "all-black" line up. The band toured some of Chicago's biggest jazz and blues clubs. Although technically Caucasian, Yehya feels he was lucky not to be stereotyped according to his race by either blacks or whites as both groups did not include him in the volatile race equation.


 
Instead they saw him as a brilliant musician, regardless of his color.After a stint with the Four Tops, and a couple of performances as a drummer with James Brown, fortune would have it that Yehya Khalil met up with Jim Post, the front man of a band on the verge of commercial success. Yehya signed on and traveled with the band to Atlanta where they would record their first album. Months later, Friend and Lover broke into the charts with the top ten single Reach Out Of The Darkness. 


 
The rapid success of Friend and Lover catapulted them into a vigorous touring regimen that had them sharing bills with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. Perhaps the apex of Friend and Lover's glory was performing on the Ed Sullivan show. This quick rise to fame was short-lived however when Jim Post and his wife, the leading lady of Friend and Lover separated. While fascinated with his brush with commercial music industry, Yehya believed he had diverted from his passion for jazz and chose to return to Chicago to pursue that dream despite numerous offers from other bands and record companies.In Chicago, Yehya enrolled in the American Music Conservatory for two years and continued to enrich his musical experiences. Perhaps the most defining moment in his career was when he was accepted as the last student of the legendary Roy C. Knapp, known as the 'Dean of Percussion' by his many students. Roy Knapp had an illustrious career as a performer and teacher in the Chicago area. His students included Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, George Wettling, Baby Dodds, Sid Catlett, and Louie Bellson. Knapp's performing career spanned 1910 to 1961. In addition to performing in theaters, television, and with the Minneapolis Symphony, Knapp spent much of his career performing on WLS radio in Chicago.

 
Yehya Khalil believes that in addition to maturing his musical skills as a drummer and a percussionist, Roy Knapp provided him with life-long wisdom, discipline and perspective as a unique mentor and father figure. Roy always instilled a sense of mission in Yehya by reminding him to "chase the music rather than the glory". Yehya became Roy's friend and companion in his last days and believes that he was fortunate to be exposed to the distilled knowledge of a great percussionist and an amazing human being.Graduating from the Roy Knapp School, Yehya Khalil continued to tour the United States as a jazz percussionist. During his fifteen years in the United States, Yehya Khalil played with the likes of Dizzie Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and Herbie Hancock. On a tour of Egypt in 1985, Dizzie Gillespie introduced Yehya Khalil as quite possibly "the greatest percussionist alive".A death in the family forced Yehya to return to Egypt in 1979, leaving behind everything he had built over the past fifteen years. Continued family issues meant that Yehya had to remain in Egypt against his wishes. His homeland however was markedly different from what he had left in the 1960s. The Open Door economic policies of President Sadat had set in motion an irreversible cultural revolution that created a thirst for everything new. 


 
Rather than view his residence in Egypt as a predicament, he began to view it as an opportunity to shape the entire Egyptian musical scene.Yehya's prediction could not have been more accurate. Over the last twenty years, he has single handedly created the contemporary Egyptian popular and jazz music scene and put himself at the helm of the Jazz movement in the Middle East. He has a huge and growing fan base that attends his regular concerts and consumes his music with passion. Today Yehya Khalil is doing what he does best, reinventing his musical identity and pushing his creative limits to new and undiscovered dimensions. 


 
His sound is a blend of authentic Arabic music cast in a raw Jazz instrumentation with Yehya's powerful drumming at the center of it all. Khalil captured the imagination of Egypt's youth, serious jazz and rock fans, and patrons of modern music in Cairo.Yehya Khalil has played in more than twenty countries, 100 cities, and performed in over 5,000 concerts and events over the last forty years. He is the host of Jazz World on the Egyptian national television. Yehya Khalil continues to play regularly all year round at the Cairo Opera House and has recently released his latest album, Rhythm of the Soul.