The moment you walk into a gig by Spain-based multi-instrumentalist Amir-John Haddad, you will know you are witnessing something special. That was exactly the atmosphere inside the Salihara Theater recently, as the musician was about to perform at this year’s Festival Salihara.
Upon walking into the theater, audience members saw five stringed instruments on display side-by-side at the center of the stage, including a Flamenco guitar and a three-necked electric guitar, seemingly itchy in anticipation for the musician’s deft fingers to pluck them.
As Haddad picked up one of the instruments and his fingers started to pick the first few notes, it took a very short time to feel your heart stirring and your ears lifted high to the heavens.
In the one-hour performance, Haddad also played the Arabic electric oud, the Turkish electric saz, and the Greek bouzouki.
It is no wonder at all that Haddad is so talented when you find out that he’s been playing music since he was seven.
“[Music] is a language that I’ve been learning [since I was] so small that nowadays I feel like I can say things with music. It’s very mysterious, you know, how one is able to express things. For me, the instruments have become a vehicle to express them,” he told The Jakarta Post.
“[When I play music] emotions just come out of me through the instruments,” he said.
Born in Freiburg, Germany, in 1975, to a Colombian mother and Palestinian father, he has come into contact with music since infancy as his father played the oud.
“The Arabic oud is very similar to flamenco and my father liked flamenco. I listened to that music all the time when I was a kid and I started to imitate my father playing the oud and the guitar. That was how I came into [playing music],” Haddad said.
He started playing at school venues at age seven. By the time he was 12, he gave his first “real” stage performance with a flamenco band. However, as he was still in school he just played sporadic gigs and concerts.
To this day, he can still remember vividly how he felt before his first stage performance.
“I was very nervous when they told me, ‘Okay, now it’s your turn’. I’d been playing music for five years, so I already knew how to move my fingers and how to play. I felt comfortable about playing, but I was very nervous because of the large audience,” he said.
That first performance turned out to be a huge success.
“Sometimes, I still meet people of my town who remember me from that performance,” Haddad said.
After finishing school, at age 21, he moved to Spain and went to where Flamenco was born — Andalusia.
He started playing at clubs and Flamenco dance classes. It was during this time that he was asked by the Flamenco teacher, Joaquín Ruiz, to accompany him to Italy in what would be Haddad’s first “official gig”.
“One day [Ruiz] came over with a cassette and said to me, ‘Listen, this is my show. In one month, we’re going to Italy. You have to learn the entire repertoire, all the songs, and then you can come’. So I start studying like hell to play all new kinds of stuff,” he explained, laughing heartily.
It was his first taste of international fame and since then, he has traveled to numerous countries across Europe, America and Africa.
He joined Spain’s legendary world music band Radio Tarifa in 1998, with whom he toured worldwide for ten years through many countries, serving as the band’s official oud, bouzouki and guitar player during most of those years.
Haddad has also won multiple awards over the years. In 1999, he won first prize for his original music composition at the Certamen Nacional de Coreografia para Danza Española y Flamenco (National Choreography Competition for Spanish Dance and Flamenco). With Radio Tarifa, he received a nomination for Best Folk Album at the 2004 Latin Grammy Awards.
His performance in Festival Salihara was his first in Indonesia and only the third in Asia, after previous gigs in Turkey and Palestine.
“I am very excited on my first time here. I just love to travel, to meet people, to see how they live and to learn their culture,” Haddad said.
According to Haddad, he has not had the chance to get to know Indonesia but is eager to learn about the country’s various cultures.
“My gig here is a nice experience and a nice opportunity to learn more [about Indonesia], especially the food. I love absorbing the culture through food. I always believe that if you understand the food, you will understand the people,” he said.
Haddad has published his solo flamenco album Pasando por Tabernas under German record label Double Moon Records in 2006. This year, he feature on two more releases, one with his world music quartet Zoobazar and another one with his heavy-funk-rock band, members of Parliament.
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