Interview with Maneli Jamal

19 Mar

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Over the last few years, Maneli Jamal has been making quite a name for himself, mostly thanks to his powerfully evocative music which is a reflection of his life. For his upcoming album The Lamaj Movement, he’s focusing on the story of his family and all the struggles and experiences thy’ve lived through.

Tell us about your new album, what can we look forward to?

Well, this new album, The Lamaj Movement, is a concept album. Something that hasn’t been explored too much in the fingerstyle world. It’s dedicated to my family’s nomadic journey all around the world before ending up at our final destination, Canada. We’ve lived in Iran, Belarus, Germany, USA and Canada, moved 20 times all by the time I was 18 years old, so every song reflects on a part of those memories.

As with life, my music has matured since my last album, The Ziur Movement, which was another concept album dedicated to my ex-fiance; long story there which I won’t get into. I think for one, my music has slowed down more to reflect my experiences in a more introspective way. What I mean is, I am the kind of person who absorbs everything slowly and needs time to reflect before writing a piece of music, especially when it comes to such a sentimental topic like my family’s past. There are still going to be a few upbeat tracks that visualize hopeful and uplifting parts of our journey. Overall I think I am focusing less on flashy guitar playing and more on melodic content.

So you’d say your playing has evolved since your first album?

Thankfully, yes! It’s always a fear for some of us musicians to stay stagnant or in a plateau and not evolve musically. I’ve always had no problem writing, as life has more than enough inspirations to keep me busy for many lives. To me, this album is all about melody and capturing the moment of what the individual song is about.

It’s all about what the composer uses from his technique bucket in his compositions that will make it stick. Most of the techniques have been invented on raw solo acoustic guitar, but now I am showing how I would have done it based on my life’s experiences with this album. I really look forward to hearing the good and the bad from my current fans.

What’s the meaning behind the title, “The Lamaj Movement”?

This is again a spin on words as my previous album. During the revolution in Iran, my politically active dad had different aliases to protect himself from the radical Islamic regime that eventually tortured him and thousands of others. Lamaj is Jamal backwards, an homage to his fight. It’s almost like a story for a movie or something. But the overall meaning of this album is a dedication to my family’s struggle in all the country’s we’ve lived.

What is your songwriting process generally like? Do you have an experience or event in mind from the beginning, or does the musical idea come first?

I’m a very visual person and it always helps when I’m writing to visualize a scene from a movie and put music to it. I always ask myself what I can do to make that visual scene sound like music. The hard part is that I’m doing it on the acoustic guitar by myself so it can be more difficult to capture that accurately since art is so subjective to begin with.

The overall meaning of this album is a dedication to my family’s struggle in all the country’s we’ve lived.

When I pick up the guitar I usually don’t intend for it to be about a specific thing, but rather let my improvisation guide me into the visual scene which has worked for me. Then again I also tend to write without visuals in mind, so an abstract thought like emotions can speak for itself. Those are pretty profound and revealing moments of introspection as it happens.

On the songs where you do have a scene in mind, are you trying to tell the story with the music, like a tone poem or a soundtrack, or is it just a general impression? 

I always try my best to tell the story with the music and timbre of the guitar. It’s such a dynamic instrument, especially when played solo, so it’s quite a fulfillment for me to only speak through that medium to convey this image I have. Hopefully the music will speak for itself to the listener; I am simply trying to guide them in the direction I had intended… not to force them. In a way, I have to try my best to get the listener to trust me in taking them on a musical journey.

What was the recording process like? I understand you had quite a multi-mic setup for this one?

It’s always a blast going into the studio and recording your work. In a way, it’s difficult to draw the line on a composition, as all of them are still growing every time I come back to visit them again. I will usually play them all differently over time and maturity in my playing.

We recorded all 12 songs in two weekends in January 2012 at McGill University Studio A. The equipment there is top-notch and my talented friend Pouya Hamidi produced and mixed the final product. I think we ended up only using 3 of the mics: 2 stereo Sankens and a Manley Gold in the middle. The sound we captured is very well-balanced and sounds like an acoustic guitar should: natural!

Maneli Jamal in concertWhat guitars are you currently using and how do you amplify them?

I mostly use my Cole Clark Triumph acoustic guitar, Spruce Top / Queensland Maple back and sides, which has a built-in pickup system. I have one of only 50 made in the world, and it’s one of the best for a built-in pickup system: 3 pick ups in one.

There’s a piezo under saddle, a small condenser mic, and one of the braces on the top of the guitar has an aluminum plate which picks up all the vibrations from the top. A beautiful piece of equipment right there. When playing live though, I usually just plug that sucker straight into the D/I and hope the soundman knows what they’re doing.

Another cool thing about this guitar company, which is based in Melbourne, Australia, is that it’s all made with recyclable Australian tone-woods!

YouTube has a been an important avenue for you. How did you use it to build your audience? Any advice for other guitarists trying to do the same?

I’ve been posting vids on there for a few years now, and thankfully people tend to like the videos, so some go viral and that spreads the word about my music. I make music that is based on real life experiences and people tend to empathize with it in one way or another. If I haven’t experienced it, I can’t write about it.

Keeping the audience always wanting more is important, as opposed to releasing new content every day or so. That plus I can’t be putting up vids every day as I’m a perfectionist to a point.

For other players looking at YouTube for an avenue to promote oneself, I would highly suggest keeping close contact with your fans as an important obligation. Without the fans there, you won’t have an audience. I always try to respond to the majority of comments or questions I get on there. This connection keeps it personal and unique for each fan as well as myself. Plus I really enjoy keeping in touch with some of them and even making lasting friendships as well.

You’ve recently been posting improvisations on electric guitar. Will we be seeing more electric guitar from you in the future?

Good question there. My connection with the way I let loose with the electric guitar is what initially got me into the guitar to begin with, so it’s a sweet spot for me. I will always be playing the electric guitar in every way I can, as there are some things the raw acoustic guitar sound has a harder time saying.

I think of it as communication. We have many ways of doing it, whether it’s verbally, through actions, affection, etc. Why not communicate in all ways to better understand yourself and your place in the music? As you can see I’m a firm believer of a moderate lifestyle, something music has taught me.

For now, this electric guitar improvisation series is a side project for people to see that I enjoy writing music as much as improvising on the spot, although most of my compositions come from improvisations anyway. I’ll soon be putting them up for sale for anyone wishing to take the music on the go with them. So in other words, I’ll definitely keep pumping out electric guitar improvisation videos, as they are in a way therapy and a break from the acoustic guitar!

Visit Maneli’s website where you can buy his first album The Ziur Movement. And be sure to check out his YouTube channel.

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