Going with the Eastern flow

The threesome comprises guitarist-baglama player Elyahu Dagmi, oud and qanoun player and vocalist Elad Gabay – both Jerusalemites – and ney (flute) player, percussionist and vocalist Amir Shahsar.

AMIR SHAHSAR (photo credit: OSNAT ROM)
(photo credit: OSNAT ROM)
Marketing material, by definition, tends to be a mite hyperbolic. Then again, when Confederation House describes the members of the Husseini Trio as “masters” of their craft, you can trust their judgment – vested advertising-oriented interest notwithstanding.
The threesome comprises guitarist-baglama player Elyahu Dagmi, oud and qanoun player and vocalist Elad Gabay – both Jerusalemites – and ney (flute) player, percussionist and vocalist Amir Shahsar. The latter relocated here from his native Iran in the late 1980s, and has become one of our foremost exponents of ethnic music, across a range of styles and disciplines.
In fact, all three dip into numerous areas of sonic intent. As amply demonstrated, for example, on Dagmi’s 2014 album Elyahu, on which he meanders through a veritable treasure-trove of cultural baggage, with the odd rock-infused high energy departure on electric guitar. Gabay, who primarily feeds off Iraqi roots and liturgical material, also has a tendency to “stray” into more contemporary domains.
That suits Shahsar down to the ground. The 50-something multi-instrumentalist has all kinds of sounds in his listening backdrop, as well as in his performance locker. “I grew up with 70s music,” he says. “For me, the 70s are the sweetest years, and not just in terms of the music – the food, fashion, anything.” In pre-revolution Iran, there was no problem getting hold of American and British pop and rock records. “The album I loved the most was Selling England by the Pound, by [progressive rock band] Genesis,” he recalls. That 1973 vinyl saw long hours of active service on Shahsar’s turntable. “I played it over and over again. I also liked Pink Floyd.”
Like lots of children the world over, Shahsar first began producing music sounds himself on recorder, at the age of 12. A couple of years later, he moved onto a basic form of flute, and it wasn’t until he was 17 that he got his hands on a bona fide flute. He also had a stint on tenor saxophone. “I could choose between alto and tenor,” he chuckles. “I went for the tenor because I liked [jazz icon] Ben Webster.”
Shahsar had the perfect instrumental genes to build from. “There are three generations of flutists in my family,” he notes. “My uncle is now 81 and he still plays.” It was same relative who first opened the door for the youngster to explore material from his native neck of the woods. “When I was 18, my uncle decided he wanted to play ney, and he found himself a teacher. I also went along for a few lessons, and my uncle and I used to practice together, but I went back to the flute.”
It was when Shahsar moved here that he really began to get into Middle Eastern music. His decision to flee Iran was partly prompted by the constraints placed on western culture by the religious Ayatollah regime. “After Islam took over Iran, if you didn’t play music that was associated with the Koran, you weren’t allowed to make music at all. It was all mawwals,” he notes, referring to the form of improvisational preface to Arabic musical works.
After settling in Israel, Shahsar came across a neighbor who was to have a profound, and lasting, impact on his artistic growth. “There was an 80 year old man from Lebanon called Salim Shauki who lived near me. He was a master of Arabic music. He taught me so much.” The then-24-year-old Iranian became a devoted disciple. “I did everything he told me. I drank in everything he taught me. I only brought a flute with me to Israel. I got serious on the ney here.”
Although at the time of our chat, Shahsar said the Confederation House show repertoire was yet to be finalized, fans of Middle Eastern music – and even fans of more Western-oriented material – can expect plenty of fireworks on June 20, and high quality delivery. All three have worked together, in various formats, over the years, and there should be no shortage of silky seasoned sounds to enjoy. “We’ll probably each bring our own material,” says Shahsar. “I never really know what I’m going to do, and what to expect, but that’s the way I like it.”
For tickets and more information: (02) 623-7000, *6226 and http://tickets.bimot.co.il, (02) 624-5206 ext. 4 and http://www.confederationhouse.org.