Leaving home for good is usually difficult. But for guitarist and songwriter Yossi Sassi, the decision to go solo after cofounding the Middle Eastern heavy metal pioneers Orphaned Land 22 years ago was more like walking out of a house that he helped build himself.
“It wasn’t an easy decision – but for various reasons, I reached a glass ceiling with Orphaned Land, both personally and musically. I realized my new challenges were outside the band,” Sassi, 39, told The Jerusalem Post last week on the eve of release of his album Desert Butterfies.
“I take pride in what we’ve accomplished with Orphaned Land. It will always be my life project and I’ll always be forever connected to those people,” he said of the band he formed in 1992 with vocalist/lyricist Kobi Farhi that through combining a Metallica roar with Mediterranean instruments, Jewish texts and messages of universalism has won an international audience, and specifically a sizeable following in the Arab world.
“I’m also very proud that we became ambassadors of Israel and helping to bridge and unite people. I feel that the power to unite people through music is inherent in my DNA, and it doesn’t matter if Orphaned Land was the vehicle or now my own music. It’s something that I’ll always do.”
For Sassi, the key to forging ahead is based on three pillars – innovation, creativity and authenticity. And whether by adding eastern instrumental fills on his bouzoukitara, (his own invention, combining the Greek bouzouki acoustic stringed instrument with an electric guitar) or integrating liturgical hymns he grew up listening to as a child from his father in their Sephardi synagogue in Petah Tikvah with metal riffs discovered in his teen years, Sassi has stayed true to those foundations throughout his career.
“For the next stage, in what I can offer in terms of creativity and musicianship, I realized that I need to pursue it with different musicians and a different outlook,” said Sassi. “And I think that Desert Butterflies is really the first – and very good – reflection of that."
Released at the beginning of the month, the album is described by Sassi as merging different cultures with contemporary music. And despite featuring guest appearances by Guns & Roses guitarist Ron Thal (Bumblefoot) and former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman, Sassi insisted that it wasn’t a heavy metal album.
“It’s very diverse world music with a professional touch of contemporary rock,” he said. “And besides Ron and Marty, guests include Erez Lev Ari, Marina Maximillian, Italian vocalist Maryangela Demurtis and a Persian singer, Yosefa Zauosh. Together, it helps make the album a special musical journey.”
Some of them will be on hand at the record release party for the album taking place Thursday night at Reading 3 in Tel Aviv. But one musician unlikely to be joining the celebration is Orphaned Land’s front man Farhi, who seemed resigned to carrying on the band’s mission without his musical partner of over two decades.
“Yossi is my childhood soulmate, we’ve been through a lot of great moments together,” Farhi told the Post. “Having him leave Orphaned Land was something not simple, but we respect his ambition to go for a solo career. It’s been clear that his passion was moving toward that career over the past two years, and I guess he followed his heart. And I admire him for it, as I’m a heart follower myself. I wish him all the best – he is indeed a guitar hero and I’m happy we were and always will be a part of each other’s life.”
Sassi expressed similar sentiments toward Farhi and Orphaned Land, proving that on both sides, breaking up is hard to do. But Sassi added that while he wished only good things for his former bandmates, he was planning on maintaining a high profile in Orphaned Land’s backyard in his continued efforts to break new ground in the Arab world and reach fans who usually reject anything Israeli.
“I still feel like an ambassador of ethnic music and of Israel,” he said. “In all my shows, the first thing I say is ‘Shalom, I am Yossi and we are from Israel. I invite you to enjoy the music, no matter what language you speak or where you come from.’ That’s the central message of my music.”