Mixing music

Guitarist and oud player Amir-John Haddad performs with Polish klezmer trio Kroke at the Oud Festival.

Amir-John Haddad (photo credit: Eugenio Gurumeta)
Amir-John Haddad
(photo credit: Eugenio Gurumeta)
These days, there’s nothing particularly eye-opening about artists who blend music from a variety of cultural sources, but there can’t be many around who embody such a diverse confluence of national strands and musical approaches as Amir-John Haddad. The guitarist and oud player, who will perform at this year’s Oud Festival alongside Polish klezmer-inflected trio Kroke, was born in Germany, lives in Spain, his mother comes from Colombia, and his father is a Palestinian. That has got to give you a flying start if you are eclectically minded, and Haddad certainly makes the most of his genetic background and the various locales in which he has resided thus far.
The Oud Festival program calls the November 15 concert at Beit Shmuel “World Music from Poland Meets Spanish Flamenco,” which just about sums up what we can expect to get.
In truth, however, Haddad has been spreading his musical net far and wide for some time. His resume includes a berth with the hugely successful Spanish-based Radio Tarifa world music outfit, which mixes flamenco, Andalusian music, Arabic material and Moorish sentiments, with Caribbean and Middle Eastern influences thrown in for good measure.
“I have been moving around from country to country for a long time,” says the 37-year-old multiinstrumentalist, adding that it has certainly helped him enhance other channels of communication as well.
“I speak English, German, Arabic and Spanish; I understand some Hebrew but I’m not fluent, and I know some French and Portuguese. I pick up dialects. Languages are like music to me.”
In fact, Haddad got an early start to one of his main lines of musical business. “When I was seven, I began playing flamenco guitar at home,” he says. “We used to listen to a lot of Middle Eastern music, and there were flamenco sounds. My dad really loved flamenco music, so I grew up listening to all of that.”
Still, it is one thing to dig the vibes and another to achieve the requisite level of skill to be able to earn a living from the art form.
“I just kept on playing and growing, and keeping on practicing,” says Haddad, although it seems there were several more musical avenues to be explored before he arrived at his current range of disciplines.
“I started playing electric guitar because I got into rock music. I loved distortion,” he declares. “And then I got involved in all these Western elements, like rock, pop, funk, jazz, heavy metal and all that stuff.”
However, after a while, Haddad found himself heading back to his musical beginnings.
“I moved to Spain because I wanted to get better on the flamenco guitar,” he explains. “I went to live in the south of Spain for a year and a half, and I picked up a lot of things there. After that, I moved to Madrid and started playing with Radio Tarifa and a lot of other flamenco artists, and I started touring around.”
For Haddad, plane hopping was not just a matter of earning his keep and performing for audiences in different places; there was some priceless added value to be had.
“Traveling around brought me into contact with all these different cultures and so many musicians, that what I do today is almost a natural result that, all these years, I have been playing such a broad range of world music.”
It is a known fact that children who grow up with more than one language at home tend to find it easier to pick up more languages as they grow up. Haddad thinks the same can be said with regard to his ability to take on new musical lines of attack.
“I think you get used to absorb the sounds in a certain way. It is not just about the theory of music, but music is about the notes and the rhythm and the feeling. Every culture puts the notes and the rhythm in a different way. I think if you try to go to the point [of looking at the notes and the rhythm], that’s an interesting place to look for.”
As for klezmer music he says he was drawn strongly to it. “Klezmer music is amazing because of the skill and musicianship you need to play it, the level of expertise you need to have to play this music. I felt comfortable with klezmer right away because it is very close to my way of modeling and the patterns I use.”
Hence, it comes as no surprise that Haddad and his Polish collaborators at the Oud Festival hit it off straightaway. “It is funny how we met,” Haddad recalls. “A violinist I played with in [world music band] Ziryab Syndicate knew Kroke, and they played together. The Kroke guys wanted to play something the violinist knew, and he picked one of our songs [from Ziryab Syndicate]; it is really like an Eastern type of upbeat song. They liked it, and the violinist told them it was my song, and that’s how we met. We played one date together, and it was really nice. We connect so well, Music has no boundaries.”
For tickets and more information about the Oud Festival: (02) 624-5207 ext. 4 and www.confederationhouse.org