- What’s your story? How do you get where you are today?
Hi there, my name is Amir John Haddad, they also call me EL AMIR. I am a guitarist, multi instrumentalist and a ‘Musician on a Mission’ !!
I love all kinds of string instruments and I play flamenco guitar, arabic oud, turkish saz, greek bouzouki, banjo, electric guitar, bass, ukulele (yes, also ukulele) and many more.
Basically everything that you can pick and plug I get attracted to….
“I believe in the emotion and power of music as well as the passion you have to put into what you do”.
I was born in Germany (Freiburg, Black Forest) into a multiethnic family and have been surrounded by music basically since I was a baby.
My grandpa is from Hamburg, my mom from Colombia and my dad from the Middle East.
I was exposed to Latin folklore, Oriental music and Flamenco as well as Rock, Funk, Heavy Metal, Jazz, Pop, Classical music, Worldmusic and many many more.
I grew up in a very musical house. At the age of three I played a tennis racket pretending it was a guitar! Shortly after that I started imitating my dad and playing around with the guitar and the arabic oud which he both played. I was absorbed and delighted by the sound of strings, it was like magic for me! Soon my dad started teaching me how to play and when I was seven years old I started to receive private clases with flamenco guitar maestros. As a kid I already would play for hours and hours non stop. After previews live experiences at my kindergarten and elementary school I started to perform on a real stage at the age of twelve!! Since then my life changed and I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My path was set…
After finishing High School I moved to Jerez de la Frontera, a village in Andalusia in 1997. Since then I have been living in Spain and I have had many amazing musical journeys performing, collaborating, recording, working or touring worldwide with my own bands and with some of the most renowned artists such as Radio Tarifa, Chambao, Juno Reactor, Marcus Miller,
Stanley Clarke, Shankar Mahedevan, Jorge Pardo, Carles Benavent, Zoobazar, Armand Sabal-Lecco, Carlos Raya, Eduardo Cabra ‘Visitante’ (Calle 13) and many more.
For me what has been always the most important part in all this was the amount of good vibe and new things I would learn each time I had the chance to meet another great artist and share the stage or the studio with him or her. It is the attitude that makes you move towards a direction where knowledge and wisdom are combined with discipline and hard work. At the same time it is important to find joy and happiness in what you do. Not always my path has been easy, not always things made sense to me yet is has been always blissful. Every encounter taught me exactly what I needed to know for the next step I took. Take this as an encouraging message for yourself, it might help you to start looking at things from a different angle and see yourself from a different perspective too.
What is clear is that I have always given the best version of my self in any situation and this is what made me grow and be where I am now. Where am I ?? (laughs)
Among all the many projects so far there is one that definitely speaks for itself and which I am very proud of being part of it.
In fall 2017 I get a phone call from a very important artistic agency based in Vienna, who told me that Hans Zimmer was looking for a multi faceted guitarist. I recorded some guitar tracks for them, Hans gave his approval and next thing: I was in! I had always dreamt about meeting Hans and being able to perform his music. Then in spring 2018 I started working with Hans Zimmer´s new show The World Of Hans Zimmer a Symphonic Celebration as one of his new soloists sharing the stage with the amazing conductor Gavin Greenaway and singer Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance) The repertoire is amazing and the music is overwhelming. Gladiator, Mission Impossible, Pirates of the Caribbean you name it… So far I have done three huge tours through Europe with this project playing at the largest Arenas such as Wembley Arena London, Wizink Center Madrid, Olympic Stadium Munich etc. What I want to tell you with this is actually that all the small steps I have taken in the past along my career, going through many different moments of my life and changes have led me to be now at this point form where I can see with an even clearer vision where to I want to move on from now. The reward is the never ending path and the joy you have while evolving as a human being, musician and artist.
Nowadays I am considered to be among the top five best flamenco solo guitarists of the new generation and this is a very nice moment for me which brings also a lot of responsibility with it.
The task is to reinvent yourself every day and be open for new paths and visions. It is not so much about the instrument itself rather than about the way you interact with your instrument.
How much do you care about how and what you play? Do you want to show off or really dig deeper into the emotional tissue of technique and music?
Do you want to reach out and touch peoples hearts?
To end this section here there is one important thing that really made me be where I am today:
All the information, education and support my parents, masters, teachers, mentors, friends, family, colleagues, artists, producers, band leaders etc gave me shaped me to the one I am today.
Of course I have found my own voice and personality within all this, still it is important to have an identity and to know where you come from. Another important thing was that I left my comfort zone (something I highly recommend, it’s worth doing as many times in your life as necessary) when I was young and moved to another country. Now when I look back this small step meant a huge change for my life and here I am!! Never know for sure where life (and my decisions) will take though. Nevertheless I will enjoy every second of it.
- References and influences. What can we find in your music?
First my mom Elsa-Maria, I could already hear the Latin folklore from inside her belly. My dad who was my first mentor and teacher. Then the maestros Pepe Justicia and Enrique de Melchor, two renowned flamenco guitar figures who where essential in my approach and understanding of the flamenco guitar as a soloist. When I was very young I was exposed to south american music, oriental music, flamenco and classical music. My musical heroes (yes I had other heroes too, Gregory Peck or Charly Chaplin were some of them) at that time were (and still are) my dad Rimon Haddad, Mozart, Munir Bashir and Paco de Lucia.
Later on at the age of twelve (again twelve) the elder brother of my best friend gave us a cassette with Metallica’s ‘Ride the Lighting’ and ‘Seek & Destroy’ albums on it. This sound changed me for ever. I was in love with electric guitar. Further influences were artists like Mothers Finest (inventors of Funk Rock), Living Color, Bad Brains, Fishbone, Infectious Grooves, Jane’s Addiction, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Randy Rhodes, Steve Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower, Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, John McLaughlin, George Duke, Trilok Gurtu, Beethoven, Sade, Billy Holiday, Rachmaninov, Sara Vaughn, Dennis Chambers, Prince, Michael Jackson, Johnny Guitar Watson, Scott Henderson, Beasty Boys, Onyx, NWA, Public Enemy, Biohazard, Grandmaster Flash, Chris Whitley, Jeff Buckley, B.B. King, …do I really need to list them all? I would need to quit my career as a musician if I wanted to complete the list (laughs) there are so many…
I just love music! For me I would define music as a magic vehicle that is driven by heart, rhythm, passion and melody (we all know that a lot of practice and commitment is needed right?). Any type of music style that has these elements immediately catches my absolute attention. I feel like I want to become the music itself and dive into the sound and emotion of it. I have been sitting down for many hours practicing, learning songs, even whole albums and tracks of other artists. I am hungry for new music, specially the one that I create. It is a beautiful sensation to compose new music. It is the unheard audible, the unknown known. My musical radar is very wide. I have no boundaries and prejudice music-wise.
- Mythical great, those instruments, samplers, amplifiers, mythical effects?
I always wanted to have a Jackson Guitar, I saw John Hayes from Mother’s Finest playing Jackson at one of their concerts when I was young and I was blasted by his sound.
Flamenco guitars by Jose Lopez Bellido from Granada. He is probably one of the most renowned flamenco luthiers in Spain. I have played his guitars since I was a kid.
Now I am playing my own flamenco signature model called “El Amir” built by Jose Salinas.
The First oud my father bought when he was young. I ended up learning on it and playing it live with the legendary world music band Radio Tarifa worldwide.
Gibson Flying V is for me a killer guitar. The concept, sound and the easy access to high frets makes it the perfect toy!
Hammond Organ, the sound is amazing I have a T200 with a built in Lesley, just beautiful.
I saw Luther Allison, a legendary bluesman blasting his Hughes & Kettner TriAmp live. The blue lights of the ‘see trough design’ looked like magic on stage (ok I was young at that time…)
Marshall JCM 800/900 just love’em.
Mesa Boogie Nomad 2×12 Combo (it’s because I have one…lol)
Morley Wah-Wha, Rat Distortion, Boss Distortion (the orange one), Ibanez Tube Screamer, RP14 Digitech, Blackstar HT Dual PreAmp, and many more…!!!
…There is something about pedals and their sounds that you just can’t get enough of them…isn’t it? The best thing is that they make our mind creative.
- New versus Second hand?
I have bought new instruments, I have bought second hand instruments and what has always been the most important parameter to me besides it looking good and sounding nice was wether I felt comfortable performing the music I had in my mind with it or not. It has to feel ’right’ in my fingers. One of the most beloved electric guitars I have is an old Fenix Strat built by Young Chang former Fender Japan. It was my first electric guitar. One thing I have never done is selling one of my instruments and I probably will never (never say ‘never’ though) do so. They all have story.
- New technologies, what is the best thing you’ve tried lately?
The best device I have tried lately has been the AcousticPre by Orange. A two channel pre amp with separate setting and EQ possibilities that suites perfectly my flamenco guitar powered by Carlos Juan Amplification and my electric-acoustic instruments.
It makes the sound rounder, warmer, more natural and more precise. definitely a pedal to must try out. Go to your closest guitar shop and ask for it!! You will be more than pleased, actually you will be blown away.
Also the Teleport designed by Danny Gomez. A new interface pedal that will make your guitar sound like whatever sound you want within seconds!
- Equipment to take you on a trip or to work on the road?
I have been always very basic in terms of technology. I have used a lot GarageBand on my iPhone to lay down ideas. I also record a voice messages on my phone with musical ideas.
I have a very good memory and I store loads of GB lot musical ideas in my head…
My basic pedal board has at least always a nice Distortion, Chorus, Wha-Wha, Delay, EQ, Line Selector, Phaser and Tuner. This makes a guitarist just happy!! I have plugged these pedals to so many different amps in different situations and have always been able to create a great and solid sound. Again, the sound is in your head and then you start to tweak and twist the knobs searching for the right frequencies and parameters until you get what you want. You gotta play around with it and find your sound. The smallest changes can sometimes achieve the hugest differences.
Also take enough string sets and picks with you! Also bring your own black gaffer tape, why? Once I made a guitar-strap out of gaffer tape!!
These last two might sound primitive to you, still they are very important points. Can’t be too careful (laughs). Best equipment though is your positive, humble, professional and honest energy! That will help you anywhere…believe me! Ah, don’t forget to smile!
- What do you use, Backup in case everything fails?
I always make sure to have an easy and direct access to the amp by skipping the pedal circuit and plugging my lead straight into the amp. In a live situation it is important that you can do it by yourself very quickly unless you have your roady standing next to you at the side of the stage.
With my fingers and technique I still can emulate the sound that I want to come out of my guitar without using the pedal chain. I have always a PreAmp (e.g. Blackstar HT Dual) with Clean, Crunch and High Gain channels to plug straight into a DiBox through the speaker simulator output.
You won’t believe how huge, powerful and clean I have sounded in certain venues with no need of an amp. Just through the wedges and/or side fills. Remember that the sound is first in your head, then in your fingers and then the pedals help to enhance that. A good sound engineer is key to your success on stage!! He is the fourth musician in a power trio so to say.
- The studio is burning down … instrument / equipment that you would save?
If I had the time I would definitely hire a transportation company to get everything ‘outta there’ before the fire fighters come (laughs).
Since this is pretty unlikely I would take my father´s oud and my first flamenco guitar built by Jose Lopez Bellido. A beautiful cypress body with a german spruce top guitar from 1984 (does this have to do something with George Orwell?). The hard discs and my MacBook!!!! There is not only music on’em! What about everything else in your life? Then if I really had the time before the smoke would get too heavy I would grab everything else (laughs again) and don’t wait for the transportation company nor the fire fighters. Hey, I have a van, I could fit all of it in there right…?
- What is your experience with Orange Amplifiers?
Though I have never owned one I know of there amazing sound, quality and versatility for almost any kind of music style. One of my bass player friends who comes from the punk and rock scene has been playing on his Orange bass head for ages and the sound is so deep and strong! (I love Glenn Hughes set up, sounds killer and blasts you away!)
So far I have played in some occasions through the TH100. It has a wide and strong sound for rock, hard rock and metal riffs. Very juicy distortion too. The riffs smack you in your face. Also the Rocker 15 Terror (Lunchbox Amp style) which has a very high definition, specially for soloing and shredding on high gain range with a great sustain. Amazing feel! Orange Rocker 30 is a great head!! I remember playing once through a Rockerverb 50MKIII and the wide range of the gain knob combined with the mid range scoop achieves that heavy, dark and juicy sound you need to rock out BIG TIME!
- First impressions about the new Acoustic PRE?
After meeting at the Orange Booth at NAMM 2019 in Anaheim, I recently visited Danny Gomez from Orange Amps at his studio and we had a nice session where he showed me the AcousticPre and its possibilities. First of all I must say the pedal looks gorgeous and very classy. In white, not over-designed and very easy to handle. The two channel device has a unique way to use the channels separately and/or simultaneously while being able to combine both EQ settings and enhance any acoustic sounding instrument tremendously. It will give your instrument a warm and natural character with that extra attack which will make you want to keep playing more and more.
I have one of my flamenco guitars powered with a Carlos Juan pick up system, the VIP Double (the same model that Vicente Amigo uses). It is a stereo output system where I can choose from the piezo under the saddle or the sensor beneath the top or preferably both. Therefore the AcousticPre is perfect for me and makes me able to blend my two channels and EQ them separately. Even only with the piezo it already sounded huge and crystal clear capturing all the subtle nuances of my fingers and nails too. It is a great device for any live or studio situation. The sound is immaculate and you will make not only make the sound engineer happier but also the whole crowd!! Isn’t that what you want? (laughs)
- What are your plans for the future?
Right now I am preparing and recording my new flamenco guitar album called ‘Andalucía’. An album with a nice concept where I make a tribute to every province of Andalusia, Malaga, Sevilla, Cadiz, Cordoba, etc. I have composed a song for each province and each title has a direct meaning regarding each province. CD Release will be on the 28th of February 2020 if all plans go well. 28th is the ‘Day of Andalusia’ and there couldn’t be a better day to release the album. On that day I will be in Moscow and St.Petersburg with Hans Zimmer though…not that I am complaining (laughs).
This year I will perform with my bands in new countries that I had never been before and I am thrilled to travel to new places and open new markets. I will also give many solo guitar recitals, masterclasses and workshops. Then again a huge Europe Tour in November/December with Hans Zimmer and the World of Hans Zimmer. So looking forward to this to meet again my bandmates who are like soul brothers and soul sisters to me! Such a great bunch of musicians and artists.
Actually I am very happy and honored to be part of the Orange Family and be and Ambassador to Orange Amps. I am looking forward to establish a solid and fruitful relationship and I am already enjoying the ride. I will definitely use the Acoustic Pre for the next World of Hans Zimmer Tour. Carsten, our sound engineer will love it, I already know!
- Tips for readers?
Be yourself no matter what!
In the case you want to become a musician/artist or even both remember that the person behind the instrument is the one that will deliver the music. Therefore take care of that precious human being!!
Best three tips ever given to me by three wise men were:
“You can’t be too careful boy, you can’t be too careful…!”
“Whenever you see the crowd turn left, you turn right boy!”
“Whenever you feel artistically in a dead end, get out of your comfort zone and move on!”
I need to explain, what they meant was: BE YOURSELF NO MATTER WHAT!!
Thank you for stopping by and reading my interview. I had lots of fun answering these great questions and share my personal vision on things. Hope you enjoyed your time reading them too.
See you soon at one of my next concerts, masterclasses, orange events, etc. Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and don’t forget to visit me at:
www.elamir.es or www.zoomusicmanagement.com
All the best of luck and keep the good music alive!! Remember, you are great!!
Peace & Love