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…
Come and join a night of song, story, poetry, community and healing. Amir Paiss, with special guests – I Am That I Am album launch. Mullumbimby Civic Hall, Saturday, 10 July. Doors open at 7pm. https://events.humanitix.com/amir-paiss-album-launch