Crossing cultures with genre-bending Tiizak Hamra

Nestled within the folds of fabric and the tokens of tales from long ago are is Tiizak Hamra.

Covered in Arabian fabrics of interlacing geometric blues, greens, reds and golden yellows, the stage is also littered with the distinctive shapes of Arabian coffeepots, hookah pipes and copper jugs. It is the setting of faraway places, full of adventure and mystery, and nestled within the folds of fabric and the tokens of tales from long ago are two multi-instrumentalists known collectively as Tiizak Hamra. Using traditional western instruments, Jason Deatherage and Aram Masee blend several musical genres and criss-cross cultures to present a unique sound that fuses the music of the Arabian Desert, classic spaghetti westerns, and American 1960s surf music. Sounding both familiar and exotic, the two appear in costume and in character for the performances and take audiences on both an audio and visual journey.

“The origins of the band go back five years,” said Deatherage. “I heard Frank Goodsir was directingAladdin for the Footlighters and I asked him if I could write some original material for the play. I had been interested in writing for a film or stage production, and I was also developing an appreciation for Arabic music. I really connected with the different time signatures and intricate percussion, but I also recognized a similarity to the music of the West. Aram and I were playing around with some ideas, but we hadn’t really solidified anything until Frank gave us the go-ahead. After Aladdin was over, we were asked to play the music at various functions, and the songs we wrote became the core material for the band.”

Adding the visual element was always an important part of the shows. “The mandate of this band was always to include outrageous costumes, and invoke the feeling of One Thousand and One Nights,” said Deatherage. “Visually, we want it to look like a Moorish harem or a bandit’s treasure cave. We’re always on the lookout for elements that add to that: lamps, rugs, trunks and swords. It was also important for us to remain in character and dress in traditional costume – including the Tuareg head-wraps. We’re interested in giving the audience something to focus on visually while we play.”

With Deatherage on guitar and percussion, and Masee on soprano saxophone and bass guitar, the duo invoke the movie scoring of Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), traditional Arabian rhythms and musicality, and the 1960s surf music of southern California. Though the two developed the unique style, defining the genre-bending music posed a challenge.

“Sometimes we call it desert-surf-spaghetti western music, or Tuareg desert surf jazz. It was only later that we discovered a couple bands with a similar sound. Musically, I think Aram and I are weird iconoclasts – we like to do whatever we want without fitting into a certain genre and we really enjoy the challenge of making a guitar and saxophone sound like Middle Eastern instruments. I suppose that’s why we’re attracted to the Tuareg; they never played by the rules of different societies and did their own thing.”

Following Aladdin, the band played a dozen concerts including a gig at Starbelly Jam, three concerts at the Sasquatch, and a wedding. But the two never recorded an album. “Over the past couple years, we tapered out. We wanted to record a live concert, but it never happened. It was only this past year that Aram and I decided to finally get into the studio and record the Tiizak Hamra songs,” said Deatherage. “I think we both enjoyed returning to the music and mixing the North African rhythms and tonalities with surf and desert guitar sounds. Aram plays Saharan jazz with his soprano sax and I try to capture the haunting strain of the Indian sitar, so that we straddle the East and West. We wanted the music to invoke the lonely experience of an expansive landscape that is unfavourable to human existence with the familiarity of the American West. That was the challenge.”

The debut album is now available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and other online services. Creston’s Stay Live Productions will host Tiizak Hamra with guests Garuda at the 3-EH Outdoor Stage (behind the Ramada) on Saturday, June 3. Gates open at 5:00 p.m.

Tickets are $15 (children under 12 are free with an adult ticket holder) and can be purchased at Black Bear Books, the front desk of the Ramada Hotel and at Ricky’s Restaurant.