Artist Spotlight: El Amir - A James Bond Guitarist
Amir has been touring globally as the solo guitarist for the ‘The World Of Hans Zimmer’
a full-scale production with a large orchestra and a full choir
We all know the meaning of the word dexterity, but before I started this interview here for the Fusion Artist Spotlight, I thought I’d just research the term and see what jumped out at me.
“Dexterity” The meaning of: "Fine motor skills in the coordination of small muscles, in movements usually involving the synchronization of hands and fingers……"
It would be far easier to say "go to a Hans Zimmer concert and witness the award-winning musician, composer, producer, arranger and flamenco virtuoso, Amir John Haddad, play guitar to the music of this German film score composer, including The Da Vinci Code, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Inception, Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Gladiator."
It is indeed a busy time for Amir, we talk just as he starts the second leg of the Hans Zimmer tour, whilst also preparing for the launch of his solo album on February 28th and, he’s just back from recording the flamenco guitar parts for the new James Bond movie “No Time To Die".
He explains, “In January this year I received an email from Hans saying: 'Where are you? I might have a very fun project for you! Can you come to London?'
"He was working on the new James Bond movie ‘No Time To Die’ and he had some cues in mind for flamenco guitar to appear during the soundtrack. I’ve always been a huge Bond fan, I think every movie has that perfect balance of action, romance, love, intrigue, thrill, drama…so many elements that make every Bond movie very exciting. I was absolutely thrilled about receiving Hans’s proposal for this movie and I am very thankful for that, it was a big honour.
"Last year, I had recorded for Hans some guitars for “The Rhythm Section” with Jude Law. I recorded some oriental sounds with an acoustic steel-string guitar, doubled some violin parts with my flamenco guitar and added some improvisations and heavy rhythmical parts. The sound of the flamenco guitar can be both intense and also exotic. It’s perfect for action scenes and also melancholic emotional scenes. The important thing was to support the action scenes and also other parts where it was required to be very delicate and passionate at the same time.”
El Amir has been one of nearly 200 people touring with Hans Zimmer for over two years performing within his new and acclaimed project ‘The World Of Hans Zimmer’ a full scale production with a large orchestra and a full choir, where Amir performs as a solo guitarist and part of the all so important rhythm section.
“There are many production companies involved within the whole concept of the tour”, Amir continues, “With 140 musicians working together on stage, including the Radio Symphonic Orchestra and Choir from the Bolshoi Theatre in Minsk, Russia. It’s quite a challenge for us as musicians, and for the sound technicians who are working with up to 260 channels on the mixing desks, to separate the different frequencies of the instruments. Each one has a channel and a microphone of its own including the violins, cellos and all the brass sections.
"It’s a delicate operation separating the gentle resonance of harp strings and the drum section, which features a full drum kit and a variety of percussion instruments. I have 6 channels for my guitars, but there are only two amplifiers, these are both under the platforms so they’re not too loud on stage. One is for my guitar and the other for bass guitar played by my good friend Juan Garcia-Herreros (Snow Owl).”
Amir performs with a variety of stringed instruments during the show, from an angry rock guitar to a beautiful solo flamenco guitar performance, the concentration is intense.
“To be able to play all these different instruments in all these diverse musical styles is not easy, from shredding it out on an electric guitar, then having to be very accurate on a flamenco guitar, then a bouzouki and ukulele for example.
"This show requires a lot of skills and a great deal of knowledge surrounding distinctive approaches and the way they interact with all the orchestral sounds. It’s not just about playing rock or flamenco, it’s about the capacity of blending the music that I play with the orchestral sounds and the personality and the emotion that I put into the performance.
"Hans Zimmer’s music is full of emotion and passion and I relate very much to this way of feeling and interpreting music. Flamenco music is a way of expressing feelings, vital experiences and emotions, similar to the way it is done in blues, and therefore the instrument becomes a vehicle to express these hidden emotions.”
It must be so different being part of the ‘band’ within such a massive musical production each night, how does that compare to being a guitar player in, shall we say a 4, 5 or 6 piece band?
“Most bands have the basic element of bass, drums, and guitar, and it’s the same within Hans’s orchestra with the rhythm section, where I step out here and there to perform my own arrangements or solos. But it’s not just about this huge musical creation on stage, it’s also how we all get along with each other on a personal, emotional and professional level. At my first rehearsal with Hans, there were so many musicians, I didn’t know any of them. I got to know bassist Juan Garcia-Herreros and we just connected, and when we heard each other play it was like a string affair!” he laughs.
“Everybody in the team is important and supported, cherished and respected. The feedback we all give each other is also important especially when it comes from our conductor, Gavin Greenaway. Gavin is the leader and everyone has to follow and respond to his moves on stage.
"He gives us feedback about the performances and makes us feel comfortable which is so important. It is, of course, our responsibility to make Hans’s music sound as beautiful as possible. Hans always says the music transmits what the eye doesn’t see, so there’s a big responsibility within us to perform and deliver that as well.
"Juan and I have a ritual before every show, we say… 'Hey man, you know what? Forbidden thinking' meaning, don’t let your mind get in the way of what you are supposed to deliver.”
Amir has literally toured the world with Hans Zimmer and on rare days off during dates, he’d rather explore the latest city than relax in yet another hotel room.
“I certainly take advantage of rest periods,” says Amir, “Although I’d rather get out and meet people just to feel the energy of their culture and city life. This gives me a lot of input which I can express in my music, maybe on stage that same night. There was an interesting moment in Denmark, where Gavin said to me after the show that my flamenco guitar in the introduction of the Mission Impossible theme music, sounded like I was playing in Danish.
"I like to dig into different cultures and appreciate them, as I’m a mix of three myself and this gives me a lot of inspiration when I’m writing my own songs. My guitars are always pretty close, in the hotel room or even on the tour bus. I play whenever I get the chance, maybe rehearsing or working on my own material.
"My new album called ‘Andalucía’ is out now and is my third flamenco album, the last one was back in 2014. The late great Spanish flamenco guitarist and composer Paco de Lucia, always said that if he released new albums close together, they would almost sound the same as the last one. I can relate to that and, I have to have life experiences to come up with something new and dig into myself for inspiration.
"‘Andalucía is dedicated to an area in Southern Spain of the same name where I spent many summers as a child. I’ve recorded 10 compositions, each one dedicated to a province in this particular area, incorporating flamenco styles, rumba, seguiriyas, granaínas, tangos, alegrías, soleá and minera for example. It’s released on February 28th to coincide with the celebration of Andalusia Day.
"While it’s basically an instrumental album, I do have a cantaora from Málaga, Chelo Soto, who performed on two tracks including the single “Andalucía” which is also the title track and name of the album, Juan played bass on that track and also on Terral de Malaga.
"I used a variety of stringed instruments on this album, including a bouzouki and an Arabic oud and my own El Amir Signature flamenco guitar, which I play on the tours with Hans. It’s the one I used on the James Bond theme and built by Jose Salinas. I also used to play guitars made by a very famous Granadian luthier José Lopez Bellido.
"I have a very unusual nylon-strung solid bodied guitar called a Nylocaster I use with Hans. It’s a Stratocaster, unusual to look at and modified by my friend and guitarist Ben Woods from Los Ángeles and plays and sounds incredible.”
With all his achievements and incredible talent, it’s hard to believe that Amir hasn’t attended colleges or universities to gain a degree in music.
“It was always private classes”, says Amir, "I was born in Freiburg in Germany and of Palestinian-Colombian heritage. I grew up watching my father play an Arabic oud which was probably the first instrument I heard even in the belly of my mother.
"He was also interested in flamenco music which, in turn, inspired him as a boy. He also noticed that whilst I was very young, kindergarten age, I was attempting to play his guitar without anyone telling me where to place my fingers.
"I was seven when he started to teach me along with a professional flamenco tutor and I progressed onward to grow and learn more the following years. When I finished high school, I went to Spain to learn all about the flamenco culture and the music. I was fourteen when I started teaching my own students which included many adults. I met maestro Pepe Justicia in Spain who became my flamenco guru, he taught me so many things on so many levels about flamenco guitar and the culture of Andalusia.”
If you are lucky enough to attend a Hans Zimmer show, you’ll not only witness Amir’s blistering speed and dexterity flamenco style, but he also rocks out heavy metal riffs.
“In my youth, I was into all the heavy metals bands, which, I have to say, I still enjoy. I still have my first electric guitar that I purchased when I was 14, a Fenix built by Young Chang. I lent it to a friend who had it for about 15 years, he wasn’t even a guitar player. I just had the urge to play it live again, so I tracked it down, gave it a rebuild and raised it back up to a really cool guitar. There was still a lot of energy in that guitar and now I’m playing it on Dark Knight, Rush, The Holiday, Spirit, Lion King and Inception with Hans Zimmer, which is really beautiful.”
El Amir's Website: http://amirjohnhaddad.com/
About the Author
With over 30 years in the music business, Lars Mullen does indeed wear many hats, as a writer, journalist, photographer, press person for his own company Music Media Announcements. As an extensive traveller, he's a familiar figure reporting from music trade shows around the world. Spending many years touring as a professional guitarist, Lars has also interviewed a host of top bands and artists, continues to write articles for magazines globally and still finds time to track down Fusion artists for our Artist Spotlight column.