Amir Paiss, co-founder of the legendary world music ensemble Sheva, is releasing his third solo album I Am That I Am. These ten new songs were inspired by what Amir says is love, truth and freedom. Seven caught up with Amir in the lead-up to his album’s launch next week in Mullum.
This is your third album – is there anything about the process that is different from the other two?
I Am That I Am has its own distinct story of creation, considering its production happened during these very curious COVID-19 times. The process also has an inter-continental flare – from its spontaneous inception in Corfu, Greece, via its initial recordings here in the Shire, all the way to its final recordings, mixing and mastering at Vancouver Island, in Canada by Joby Baker (Deva Premal & Miten’s musical producer).
Joby conducted the whole production with his skilful musical wizardry and weaved his special touch into the vision I had for the songs. After the core recordings here in January 2020, my family and I went to Central America and then to the Middle East for a family wedding. After that, I intended to travel to Joby’s studio in Canada for three weeks to reconvene and finalise the album by mid-April.
But, as the Hebrew saying goes, ‘God laughs when one makes plans’ and borders began to shut around the world because of the whole covid story. So my beloved Nirupa and I had to adjust and change plans quickly, and instead of three weeks in the studio with Joby, we had only three days in Canada!
From morning to night, I recorded all my vocals and then swiftly flew to Australia. We felt like Indiana Jones as he slides under the cave’s door just before it closes, and we managed to be on one of the last flights back home.
As for the inspiration that birthed the songs – I decided not to wait for the goddess of inspiration to cross my path but instead knock on her palace’s gates and proactively invite the songs to arrive, and indeed they began to emerge and crystallise. To be honest – they arrived smoothly and way quicker than I hoped. What an incredible phenomenon it is to witness a song come to life. I intended to write scenes from my life that embrace the paradox of being. That which we call eternal spirit with what we know to be temporal – our body. I wanted to encapsulate what I articulate as love, truth and freedom, and what I recognise as clear and wise in my life.
How has your music evolved since the first album?
As I grow in life, I’d like to believe I do evolve and trustfully get more skilful in the art of living. In turn, it naturally informs everything I do, all my relations, and all my expressions. It is so interesting to contemplate the musical expression as a reflection of my life’s journey. It feels like a natural continuation of a thread I am aware of since I remember being aware. Music for me isn’t only meditation and a solitary thing; instead, it is a way to heal and connect with my community. So it is also those I work with and the connections we share that infuse the music.
I love collaborating with people, and other musicians always inspire me. Working with other artists is such an enriching experience, and I am fascinated by the creative cross-pollination. I may have specific ideas and visions that guide me musically and poetically when composing and writing a song. Yet, the way it unfolds is always alive and changes by the people who contribute their heart and art to the creative process. There has to be a lot of space for spontaneity.
So in truth, every album is its unique being, and each has its special character. I Am That I Am is my third solo album, and the twelfth I have co-produced so far, all the way from my Sheva days to the different projects I have co-created over the years. My previous solo albums Zeh, produced with Amirel Lachish and Satsong, created with my musical Sheva brother and producer, Avishai Barnatan) spanned years of writing and assembling, waiting for their proper time to ripen and be launched into the world. As a result, both albums had songs that I have sung for years before recording them.
The new album had only two pieces that I have rarely sung before, and the rest came especially for this album.
For the new album, we first recorded the songs with the Temple Band that toured with Deva Premal & Miten (Joby Baker with Miles Bould and Spencer Cozens) as the musical foundation for the album. Their sensitive connection and musicality greatly influenced the sound of the album.
Why this album at this time?
The most straightforward answer would be that I am doing what I cannot not do. Sometimes it seems to me that everything operates in this way. I feel like I am guided and led by an unseen, yet present, force. So I answer a call. Especially in these times of polarisation, I want to orient toward what is connecting and healthy. It is a way of being an activist for the values I want to live by and contributing to raising the world’s vibration in which I live. Music is a natural environment, a language I love and consider as a healer. So this is an album of what I think of as medicinal songs, seeded with insight and frequency that support and facilitate connection. I believe that, ultimately, the connection is the greatest treasure in life. As my father told me when I was a child, our friends and family are our most significant capital. So one can say that, through the album, I creatively engage with the world, participate in it, love and befriend the community and express my belonging to creation.
Do you have a favourite track?
It is a bit of a tricky question. It is hard to say, and to be honest; it changes all the time. Because the songs are like my offspring, they all have a special place in my heart. ‘It Is Grace’ has a strong storytelling biographical flavour and is a favourite. The first single and video clip (that captures many local faces – check it out on YouTube!), titled I Am That I Am, is a favourite. Then, Born To Be, which features my dear family and well-loved Deva Premal, Miten and Manose, and has an exquisite Cuban trumpet solo, is a favourite. Also, ‘Hearts With A View’ features the legendary world music pioneer and my soul brother Jai Uttal and is my favourite. Frankly, I can list here all the songs, because they are all my favourites in different moments, and I alternate my pick accordingly.
What can the audience expect to experience at the launch that they won’t find anywhere else?
The album’s launch will go beyond a musical event. For me, it is a way of bringing together community, weaving culture, and connecting with the innate wisdom of presence, so it is more like a musical ceremony, celebration and prayer. In Hebrew, the word for audience and band are coming from the same root – because there is no separation when we are in a musical space. I believe it is strengthening our immune system and it nourishes our nervous system as a community. I envision a poetic and potent, heartfelt evening that’s grounded in the clear vision of a healing community, and the facilitation of connection through song and music. Music is not merely for entertainment – it is of the very essence of our being. So when we come together, marrying intention and sound, we can celebrate our connectedness in a tangible, transformative and impactful way.
With me on stage will be Kamal Engels, on bass, and Tsoof Baras on drums. The incredible guests joining me on stage include my dear friends and world-renowned musicians Murray Kyle, Ohad Rein aka Old Man River, and Omkar Kirtan, and my exquisite musical brothers, Avishai Barnatan and Shai Shriki.
There will also be a surprise performance, but you’ll have to be there to find out…
Local music legend takes the path less travelled - By Paul Bibby
Echo -Byron Shire - published April 3 2019
Even as a child growing up in conflict-torn Tel Aviv, Amir Paiss wasn’t afraid to swim against the stream.
‘I remember as an eight-year-old telling the teacher “hey, I just think we [the Jews] got land to be in, now we have to help the Palestinian people to be in their land”,’ the local music legend recalls.
‘It didn’t go down well – some of my classmates called me a traitor. But I remember, even then, not being deterred by having an unpopular opinion. I felt aligned with my own values.’
Forty-five years later Paiss is once again going his own way, exploring a new career path as a somatic experiencing practitioner – a healing modality that assists in the recovery from trauma and promotes emotional well-being through nervous system regulation.
Paiss and his wife, Nirupa Hoffman, are presenting a local somatic experiencing workshop together at Mullumbimby’s WeMove studio on May 5.
‘Music is a continuous flow in my life – it’s always here and, I think, always will be,’ he says from his home in Mullumbimby Creek.
‘But somatic experiencing is something that really inspires me.’
Those familiar with Paiss’s music career may not be hugely surprised at this new direction.
Local musician and healer Amir Paiss at his home in Mullumbimby. Source: Jeff Dawson
The desire to heal has been a recurring theme running through his many projects and collaborations, from the internationally-renowned cultural fusion group Sheva, to the reconciliation gatherings in which Jews, Palestinians and Christians were brought together through music.
It began, the 52-year-old says, with the desire to heal himself.
‘When I was a year old the six day [Arab-Israeli] war happened,’ he says.
‘When I was seven the Yom Kippur war happened, and then at age 16 the Lebanon war happened. And in between that there were all these terror attacks that happened and incidents involving the army.
‘To grow up in that environment is growing up in a pressure cooker. It’s a tough neighbourhood.’
After completing his compulsory military service at 21, Paiss left Israel and didn’t come back for nine years, travelling through India, South America and South-East Asia, playing music and exploring different ways to heal his pain.
‘I was suffering,’ he says.
‘I looked at the “normal” society around me and I didn’t like what I saw. I looked at the western world’s values of financial success, achievement, innate competition, this Darwinism outlook and I realised I was after something else.’
‘I didn’t want to wake up in the morning and feel that the world was unfriendly. I wanted to wake up in the morning and feel grateful, to feel that life was user-friendly.’
Throughout this journey, Paiss had deliberately stayed off the stage.
Having performed scores of times as a child and throughout his military service (which was spent as a member of an army music group) the young man had decided he would not return to the spotlight until he ‘had something original to say’.
‘It was clear to me that I didn’t want to be a slave to the entertainment industry,’ he said.
‘I saw what was going on backstage and the dynamics of the industry – the chase for success, financially or fame – and I didn’t like what I saw.
‘I was searching and researching how I could get in touch with the essence of music as a healer, exploring how it could create a safe space where people could pray together and connect and express themselves.’
It was during this exploration that Sheva came into being – a group which included members from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds and had a strong message of peace.
‘We all met in different constellations of life and somehow it just happened,’ Paiss says.
‘We got asked what our name was and I just looked at the group and said ‘well, there are seven of us, how about Sheva – [the hebrew word for] seven.’
‘Then it just caught like a fire in a dry forest. We were asked to play festivals, and then before you knew it we had a gold record without being in the media even once. It was all from the grass roots.’
Healing the divide between different cultures and religions was central to the band’s purpose.
‘We asked ourselves “What is the same between the far away indigenous culture, and the synagogue, and the Christian church and the mosque? How can we integrate those qualities into an experience that will inspire us and facilitate that connection among other people?”’
‘We always felt when we were on stage that it was a prayer. It’s a celebration, a meditation and going wild.’
It was Sheva that ultimately brought Paiss and his young family to Australia.
‘Israel was very tumultuous at that time,’ he says.
‘The second intifada had started and there was a lot of violence and blowing up buses and bombs – it was horrible.
‘And then we received an invitation to tour Australia and I said to my partner, how about we go there a month early and we see what it’s like? And we arrived in the Shire, and we immediately felt at home.
‘It was like a chicken house of strange birds – you can be who you are. All the best things that we loved everywhere were combined together to make up this place.’
Like so many other travellers to the Shire, Paiss’s journey in obtaining permanent residency was far from a quick and easy process.
But thanks to local producer Danny Yezerski he obtained sponsorship and eventually became a citizen.
It was then, with his foundations set more solidly that Paiss began to turn his attention to somatic healing.
‘That area of helping others was always attractive for me,’ he says.
‘But the more I grow up and mature, the more I understand that the more grounded and regulated and healthy I am, my ability to help others is increasing.
Another major factor in Paiss’s decision to pursue this course was the fact that his wife, Nirupa Hoffman, is a somatic experiencing practitioner.
‘She is a highly regarded practitioner in her own right and I’m grateful to be partnering with her,’ he says.
Change of Paiss
Amir Paiss is an international musician who has chosen to live in the Byron Shire. After years on the road in bands and ensembles, Amir has recorded his first solo album, Zeh, which he launches at the Byron Theatre at the Community Centre on Thursday.
How did you find music, or what was it that put you on your path?
Ever since I remember myself, music has been an essential and integral part of my life, always a source of inspiration and consolation. I like to see it as if music found me and I am the one being played by it. A call that I have to follow.
I have a vivid memory as a five-year-old listening to a song that said: ‘you and I can change the world’, and it resonated so deeply in me without my understanding it intellectually.
I first performed as a six-year-old, and started to write poetry when I was nine. When I first grabbed a guitar at 14 I started composing my own songs.
My teenage years were spent in the Tel Aviv singing group, with whom I had hundreds of shows and I served three years in the Israeli army as a singer-performer.
By that time it was clear to me that I didn’t want to be a ‘musical puppet’, and I decided that I would stay away from the stage until I have something authentic to share. I lived my twenties on the road, travelling the world, studying the connection between music and natural healing in different traditions. I played with the people I met, and after my 30th birthday cofounded Sheva with a close group of friends, fellow travellers on a similar path.
With Sheva we toured Israel, Europe, the USA and Australia. That’s how I came here with my family. In Byron I found a new kind of space that allowed me to explore other musical territories, with local talents as well as with international ones.
I cofounded here two ensembles – Nomadic Voices with my longtime musical brother Avishai Barnatan from Sheva, including Laura Targett, Shai Shriki and Yoav Mashiach and Ali Baba with Avishai, Laura, Si Mullumby, Matt Goodwin and Si Durrington.
I produced and coproduced here four albums, and after nine albums with different ensembles this recent release, Zeh (‘This’) is my first solo debut. In a way it feels like it is just the beginning.
What is it like walking out of an ensemble and into your very own solo recording?
Coming into solo recording was a beginning of a new phase, like an initiation, a rite of passage, a ripening, still very supported by the people I live and work with, yet independent in a new way. There is a sense of freedom to share aspects of myself that were always there in all the ensembles I worked with but in a different dosage. Now stepping out there, sharing myself in this way, feels like an adventure that I am very grateful for.
Who are the people you collaborated with?
My partner in the production, and arranger of the whole album, is Amirel Lachish of Left Bank Records. A man of great integrity and musical genius, he devotedly supported my vision from the first day I came to his studio. Our communication and mutual openness enriched the album, and we had an incredibly inspiring time together.
Amirel brought to the project his Japanese jazz trio – The Akimitsu Iwase trio – Amirel on double bass, Motohiru Shioiri on drums and Akimitsu Iwase on piano. Over five long days we recorded the whole album at Amirel’s studio. I translated the Hebrew lyrics to English, and Amirel and Yuko his wife would translate it to Japanese before each recording.
Jai Uttal, the world-music pioneer and a dear friend, recorded his guitar on few of the tracks when he came to visit, as did Ravi Freeman. Avishai Barnatan, my Sheva brother, played his wind instruments, local talents Cye Wood and Laura Targett added their magical strings, Rachel Mayo played the cello, Jaime Pattugalan grooved with his percussions, Rob Neil with his Celtic harp, Yoav Mashiach played Dumbek, Andrew Cox added vocals and from Israel Ilan Pustopetski played synth and Sheerom played accordion.
Then while touring in NY, I recorded Gilad Dobrecky with his percussion. Michael Bates was always ready to help us with technicalities and the finale was when Assaf Ayalon, an awarded producer, guitarist and dear friend, came from Tel Aviv to Mullumbimby for one month to add his special touch. The album was then mixed in Israel by Simon Winestok and mastered here by Michael Worthington. A really global production.
What should we expect for your launch?
A live version of the album. I feel so fortunate to have a fantastic ensemble with me. Amirel Lachish on double bass, Steve Russell on piano, Alan Park on keys, Oles Krolikowski on guitars and Jaime Pattugalan on drums.
Special guests will be Avishai Barnatan on wind instruments, Laura Targett on violin and Shai Shriki on oud.
I prepared English translations for the original Hebrew poetry to make sure everyone is included. I will also share some songs from my next English poetry project, and will open the evening with a sacred Hebrew chant. My intention is to share an inspiring evening of spirit and music, celebrating the birth of Zeh, and our connectedness.