Cultures come together at the ‘I’m A Guitar’ festival in Tel Aviv

A duo of musicians playing the same instrument may not seem like the most adventurous musical proposition. On the other hand, if you are dealing with a pair of teachers like Marcello Nami and Amir Weiss, you can be sure that there is an eclectic, compelling and absorbing experience on the cards.

The two are on the bill for this year’s “I’m A Guitar” festival that takes place in Tzavta in Tel Aviv from November 15-17. The third edition of the international event, overseen by artistic director Doron Salomon, features a host of prominent artists from a wide range of cross-cultural domains, styles and genres and even includes a foreign guest in the form of the Cuban-born Austrian artist. Marco Tamayo. Internationally renowned Israeli guitarist and vocalist David Broza will also fly from his New York residence for the occasion.

To say that Weiss is delighted to cross musical swords with Nami would be to err, rudely, on the side of understatement. The Israeli-born guitarist met his Brazilian-born counterpart through a chance meeting at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, where Weiss was pursuing a career. “There was a singer who was studying there named Dorit Grossman who knew Marcello, they became a couple after a while, and I spent some time playing music with him.” That helped overcome the language barrier. “Marcello didn’t know any Hebrew at the time, so the music was certainly useful,” laughs Weiss.

Their paths crossed again several years later, after Nami moved here permanently, when Weiss asked her to go to Kfar Hayarok High School in the far north of Tel Aviv, where Weiss taught music. “He came to do a clinic,” Weiss recalls. “I told my students that they were going to find something they had never heard before.” Nami was so much more than the new kid on the Israeli music block. “He has such a deep understanding of Brazilian music that people in Israel don’t really know,” says Weiss. “Most of the people here know Brazilian artists like [composer Antonio Carlos] Jobim and [styles like] bossa nova and samba. That is really it. Some may know [85 year old multi-instrumentalist] Hermeto Pascoal and [73 year old composer pianist and guitarist] Egberto Gismonti, but little else. Marcello broadens the scope and it was a great surprise for my students ”.

Weiss has also benefited greatly from his confluence with Nami, with whom he has been performing for about 4 years. “Marcello asked me to play a couple of pieces with him at the clinic. In fact, I took the time to learn them and I think that impressed him, ”laughs Weiss.

Illustrative guitar (credit: NEEDPIX.COM)

The chemistry, personal and musical, was clearly there. “He said let’s do something together, and we go from there,” says Weiss. “We record things and start doing shows. We built our repertoire, with original material from each one of us, and made some arrangements on our own ”.

Weiss’s awareness and musical development took an incremental step in 2018 when she went with Nami to the source, to Brazil, for a two-week concert circuit in the country. “It was a very powerful experience for me, playing a lot with Marcello in all kinds of places, and I met very different types of people.” Weiss understood the real McCoy, on a human level, at his birthplace. “We hung out in Rio and went to samba clubs where original music is played.” It was there that Weiss began to really appreciate the depth of the roots of Brazilian music and how universally loved it is. “We would go to places to listen to music and you feel the commonality of music, and the way that people of all walks of life and ages love it. There would be homeless and wealthy people, grandmothers and children. Everyone would be standing around a table where there would be musicians playing, in the middle of the street on a weekday. It was magical. “

Weiss, in his 30s, began making music, like many of his generation, on a keyboard contraption called an organit. “I got into it in first or second grade and even progressed to real keyboards and piano,” he says. Of course, he did not dedicate himself entirely to his musical education. “I got to the stage where I was playing in class, but I didn’t practice much in between.”

His musical epiphany came when he was 13 years old, when a guitar appeared. The young man was hooked quickly, partly motivated by social dynamics. “I took music seriously and even started practicing on the piano. Today I am not called a pianist, but I do it well ”.

Brazil and its seductive music were still a long way off for the young man. “You know, when you’re 13, everyone wants to play rock and roll. Jimi Hendrix was my idol. I still love his music and would be happy to have some time, if I could, to learn some of his numbers. “

Back then he kept his musical options open. “I went in all kinds of directions: jazz, studying composition and all kinds. That’s really when it all started. “

Weiss can speak of “all kinds of directions,” but he basically takes a non-divisive approach to everything and prefers to relate to everything simply as “music.” On the other hand, there is a wealth of genres, styles and cultural baggage in his work, largely informed by the sounds and energies of Brazil, with some jazzy textures stitched into the fabric of the backdrop.

This will be reflected in his tête-à-tête with Nami, at the Tzavta 2 auditorium on November 16 (7pm), “I come from a more western feeling, and Marcello too, for example, has flamenco in what he does, ”Weiss observes.

There will also be capes at the Tzavta show. “We will play a lot of Brazilian music with traditional material like choro and more genres like the work of Egberto Gismonti and Hermeto Pascoal. There will also be many of our originals. Marcello has genres like baião and frevo, which are not played as much in Israel. And there will be genres from the Bahia region [in northeastern Brazil]. “Weiss is aware that not everyone in the audience will differentiate between the styles, but he hopes everything works out.” To the Israeli ear that may sound like samba, but it is different. “

There will be plenty available to sink your teeth and ears into. Weiss says that he and Nami sometimes add some percussion to their show’s format, but that they like to do their thing, just as a couple. “There is a lot of freedom when you only have two instruments. That allows you to change things, bring them out, take things too far, a lot of dynamics. There is a lot of space and we can get out of our traditional roles. It is fun.”

Sounds good.

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