Za’ed Na’es: The Plus Side of a Jordanian Electronica Band

Interview with Jordanian band Za’ed Na’es + -

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(Picture: from left to right; Ammar Urabi, Basel Naouri, Amjad Shahrour. All clothes by H&M. Body wrap on Amjad, stylist’s own.)

Photographed by Hiba Judeh
Interview by Mike V. Derderian
Styling and make-up by Raya Finan
Edits by Caitlin Ostrowski

There were no extensive recording sessions to attend. No moments of euphoric unraveling as a musical piece was arranged and mixed. No ascending and descending lights from a state of the art sound mixer owned by a flamboyant sound engineer. No behind-the-scenes with the band as they recorded their next haunting piece.

There was, though, a moment of utmost embarrassment as I arrived to the Turtle Green Café which sounds like a tavern from a Tolkien book. There, I could not find the two band members of Za’ed Na’es who were available for an interview.

I run out of telephone credit, so I had to rush to the closest supermarket. After a couple of attempts to call the guys, to no avail I got a call from one of them.

“We are there, they said.”

“I was there too! Okay, no worries. I am on my way,” I answered, fast on my feet as I returned to the cafe.

Short of breath, I ascended the stairs that led to the smoker’s section at the café, and shook hands with Members, Ammar Urabi (drums and percussion), and Amjad Shahrour (bass, guitar and vocals).

Basel Naouri (trumpet, midi and keyboards) was traveling.

I was very excited to meet Za’ed Na’es who, as a band, had me at the first utterance of the sentence “Ya Jarha Galbi,” by the one and only Enas Al Said, an amazing vocalist. This haunting piece is a live cover of Sabah Fakhri’s original.

To sum up what I think of the electronic trio, I will use the following comparison. Hayao Miyazaki is often referred to as The Japanese Walt Disney, a title that he hates, which is why I am not going to say that Za’ed Na’es, to me, are the Jordanian Massive Attack. This would be unjust. But, damn, these guys have a massive and wicked sound that attacks your senses into a mental awakening.

I was quite mind blown by their energetic and memorable tracks. The trumpet, the bass, the drumlines, and the synthesizers can echo in your mind long after the Youtube video player stops.

The definition of a good song or a track lies in the manner with which it sticks in your very soul. It plays over and over and in moments of utmost silence without any warning at some point in your day. This is how I experience good music!

How can I tell if it is good music? I can tell because of 13 years of experience as a disc jockey and a radio presenter at Radio Jordan 96.3 FM.

The interview went well and Ammar and Amjad were pretty straight forward with their answers. I wish Basel was present. He emailed me his answers.

After a while, you tend to realize, as a journalist, that most artists like to keep those real moments of creative nirvana to themselves. Creative nirvanas are personal moments that are hard to reinvent in words, hence the birthing process in the form of a written piece of lyrical poetry or a music track.

In this month’s issue of My Kali you will learn a little more about one awesome local band: Za’ed Na’es, and if this interview and Q & A session are not enough for you visit their social media!

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(Picture: All clothes on Basel Naouri by H&M.)

Amjad Shahrour: Around a year and a half.

Ammar Urabi: We’ve known each other for seven years now.

Basel Naouri: I met the guys back in 2007 when they called me for a jam session in Ammar’s house. We ended up doing a lot of music related projects such as KIMA an alternative rock band, and some other jazz projects.

What is your reaction to the vibe you’ve been getting from people who love your music?

Ammar: We love it and it drives us. However, we are not doing this to get compliments.

Amajad: When the three of us spend time in a room playing music together we are soon overcome by a euphoric feeling. Passing on this euphoric feeling to others is what we want to do: sharing our experience.

Bsel: I have a good feeling about the local scene. It has been developing rapidly over the last few years, more opportunities for bands to perform, and definitely a bigger audience!

Is there a certain place that you all favor going to, like someone’s place or a studio?

Amjad: Ammar’s house. We love playing music there.

Ammar: The room where we work just gives us good vibes.

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(Picture: Band members of Za’ed Na’es. All clothes by H&M.)

Is it the one in the teaser videos that you have been posting?

Ammar: Yes. It has changed a little as we like to change things every now and then.

How much time do you spend playing music in there?

Amjad: A lot. We’ve spent a lot of time there.

Ammar: When we were studying we used to finish our lectures and spend seven to eight hours there.

Amjad: We used to spend so much time there that I often end up spending the night at his place.

Now, if someone is to grab your music-player, what type of music do you usually have on your playlist?

Ammar: Atoms for Peace, Nicolas Jaar, Bonobo. We recently got back to listening to Led Zeppelin. We haven’t do so in a long time.

Amjad: Cinematic Orchestra, Radiohead, and Effects Twin. I sometimes listen to African tribal music.

Basel: I’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Gorillaz, Cinematic Orchestra, Nicolas Jaar, Mumford and Sons, Bon Iver, James Blake, Dream Theater, Jameriquoi, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Boards of Canada, Metronomy, Muse, Coldplay, The XX, XXYYXX, Burial, and Four Tet.

This list just goes on and on. I was interested in electronica after I lived in Europe between 2012 and 2013. It was a platform for me to incorporate all the other genres that I like, thus leading into a new sound which for me goes beyond the term genre.

Amjad: Tastes change over time and so does one’s music.

Ammar: There is always something new. You cannot say a certain song is not good as what is bad for you is good for someone else. We love listening to everything.

Amjad: We all now have, thanks to technology, the ability to absorb all types of music from all over the world.

Basel: I never found myself staying in one genre too long. I always got bored of it and moved to a new and kind of opposite mood! As I went on I started discovering the unfamiliar music, somewhat weird, and definitely not stuff that I heard on the radio. I started noticing a big difference in the messages and moods that this new world of music has, and I was hooked immediately! I just wanted to find the songs with the least number of views, the artists that almost no one knows existed, and the genres that were just being introduced to the world as experimental music. That was my thing.

Ammar: As we said it, music is ever changing.

Basel: We started playing around and experimenting with sound, trying to design experiences and not songs per say, after travelling to Morocco I came back with a new orientation to composing and structuring the musical pieces, a more trance oriented hypnotic mood was taking over.

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(Picture: Body wrap on Amjad shahrour, stylist’s own.)

If someone wanted to start a band at this time and age what advice would you give him?

Amjad [laughing]: We don’t give advice. Enjoy.

Ammar: Enjoy it. Define what you want from it.

Amjad: Just enjoy it and play music.

Have you played outside of Jordan?

Ammar: Not yet but we want to tour the Arab world; maybe when the chaos abates.

Amjad: We want to do that and hopefully we will play in world venues.

I noticed that you’ve collaborated with a number of Arab singers. How does that come to be? Do you only do it when you realize you can click, musically with someone?

Amjad: We usually approach artists who we believe will match our own musical direction even though sometimes they don’t have to match that at all. Differences also lead to excellent results.

Basel: Vocals and singing were always part of music and so it was inevitable that we seek collaboration with other artists whom we liked, and it is not confined to vocals, we are also interested in all forms of collaboration, auditory and visual.

Is singing in Arabic a choice?

Amjad: It is a choice but we don’t mind doing music with singers from around the world and who don’t speak Arabic.

Ammar: One reason we do it in Arabic is because we are from here. Expressing ourselves in Arabic is the most logical thing. It will also come out as natural and real.

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(Picture: All clothes on Ammar Urabi by H&M.)

Do you write the lyrics to your songs or is that the work of the singers you collaborate with?

Amjad: It is both.

How do you describe the collaborative process?

Ammar: When a vocalist arrives to sing on any of our tracks he/she bring their own side to it.

Amjad: We are open to collaborations with different people because the blending of these different experiences produces beautiful music. This is what happens with a lot of our collaborations. We would be playing music with a vocalist when something extraordinary comes out. At that moment we continue doing we have been doing until we record it. It is an amazing experience.

From where do you draw your inspiration?

Ammar: It is never pre-planned. We have a simple system. We just sit together and jam. We play music.

Amjad: From everything. We draw inspiration from our daily lives. We all have our own ways.

Basel: Our sound is a reflection of what we experience in our everyday lives, and we tend to express it all in music. Regardless of the topic that each project was generated from we try to go with the things we really relate to. We hope to be able to keep doing music, sharing it and expanding our collaborative network of friends, making this life a better experience for all of us.

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(Picture: Band members of Za’ed Na’es. All clothes by H&M.)

So what do think of the music scene in Jordan?

Amjad: There are a lot of challenges to face here especially when you play alternative music.

Ammar: If we released a track, and no one liked it, it won’t pose a problem for us as what is most important is how we feel about our own music.

Basel: As for the industry, I’m not really sure as I haven’t figured it out yet! Hopefully the Arab world will be exposed to all the projects that we do, and in some way get involved.

How much time do you spend on social media?

Amjad: Social media has become a necessity.

Ammar: It is important. Internet helped spread music around the world. Now, everyone has access to music. The three of us do it. It is not just in the hands of one person.

Amjad: Yes, we divide our time doing it, and that is why you don’t end up spending a lot of time doing it.

How was your My Kali photo-shoot?

Amjad: It was very hot. We were dripping. The fan broke down.

Ammar: Yes, that wasn’t a good thing as it was a very hot day. Overall we were not used to it but we pulled through. It was fun though.

Amjad: Yes, we loved doing it.

When you play live do you try to re-create the same sound that you’ve worked on in the studio — especially that we are talking about electronic music?

Amjad: It will differ as you are dealing with a live instrument. Whether we are talking about me holding a bass guitar, Ammar sitting behind an acoustic drum, or Basel holding any of his instruments. I believe this is what makes us different. Some people go digital all the way. Our So what do think of the music scene in Jordan?

Amjad: There are a lot of challenges to face here especially when you play alternative music.

Ammar: If we released a track, and no one liked it, it won’t pose a problem for us as what is most important is how we feel about our own music.

Basel: As for the industry, I’m not really sure as I haven’t figured it out yet! Hopefully the Arab world will be exposed to all the projects that we do, and in some way get involved.

How much time do you spend on social media?

Amjad: Social media has become a necessity.

Ammar: It is important. Internet helped spread music around the world. Now, everyone has access to music. The three of us do it. It is not just in the hands of one person.

Amjad: Yes, we divide our time doing it, and that is why you don’t end up spending a lot of time doing it.

How was your My Kali photo-shoot?

Amjad: It was very hot. We were dripping. The fan broke down.

Ammar: Yes, that wasn’t a good thing as it was a very hot day. Overall we were not used to it but we pulled through. It was fun though.

Amjad: Yes, we loved doing it.

When you play live do you try to re-create the same sound that you’ve worked on in the studio — especially that we are talking about electronic music?

Amjad: It will differ as you are dealing with a live instrument. Whether we are talking about me holding a bass guitar, Ammar sitting behind an acoustic drum, or Basel holding any of his instruments. I believe this is what makes us different. Some people go digital all the way. Our signature is different through the instruments that we play on stage.

When you first started out what type of music did you use to play?

Amjad: Iron Maiden, believe it or not. Rainbow was another band that made me love playing music. Then you get drawn to the technical aspect of music like progressive music and that is when I started listening and playing Dream Theater.

Ammar and I started playing jazz and funk. We eventually gravitated towards electronic music. We became more interested in creating sounds. We stopped thinking about the instruments; our main concern became sound itself and about creating something new. It was more about getting that new sound more than anything else.

Basel: Having instruments all around gave me the chance to experiment on them and learn them in my own way, I sort of always had the determination to play what ever melody that I had in mind on every instrument within my reach, and that made me develop a way of linking each instrument with the other and made it easier for me to learn them.

Ammar: Basel plays everything. Anything you want Basel to do or play, just give it to him.

Basel: I grew up in a family were music was part of every gathering, and certainly not an option. I remember growing up to the sounds of Um Kalthoum, Abdel Wahab, Fayzeh Ahmad, Sayed Darwish and others. It was just a part of everything we did.

Amjad: One’s taste in music evolves.

Ammar: We are into evolving. With the outbreak of Dubstep people started listening more and more to electronica. You never know tomorrow we might be playing a different type of music and not just electronic.

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(Picture: Band members of Za’ed Na’es. All clothes by H&M.)

When you are not musicians what are you?

Amjad: I work in adventure tourism: Hiking and rock climbing. It has become my passion.

Ammar: Basel and I, at the moment, are taking some time off because we want to focus on music.

Amjad: The three of us want to focus on music more.

Are you currently working on an album?

Ammar: Things are now different and an artist does not have to release a full album. You don’t have to release everything in one go. It all depends on a lot of factors; finances are part of it.

Amjad: Producing a full album takes a lot of time and money. However, we have accumulated material enough for an album.

We usually take time before we release a track. Sound and composition are always up for change. One of might decide to add something new to give a song more momentum and richness, and at times you realize you can always improve a track and just have to stop and just release it.

A lot of Autostrad’s songs revolve around social satire and humor while artists like El Far3i are politically charged. Where do you see yourselves?

Ammar: Global. The world is not just the Middle East. We are about being everywhere in this humanity.

Amjad: I think our place would be daily life. We don’t address specifics.

Ammar: There are a lot of issues out there. You don’t always have to sing about an issue. When your message is abstract it can contain more ideas.


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Follow Za’ed Na’es via social media:

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Check out the latest works by band Za’ed Na’es

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRYBIH41zzo&list=PLfxCsqQjkRQ-Keztc9OxnApMF-rBvcbYb

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/215247134" params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450" iframe=”true” /]

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