Interview Yossi Sassi (ex-Orphaned Land)

"I love to experiment with sounds and cultures"

(November 2015, text by Arne van Os van den Abeelen, edited by Peter Willemsen)

Yossi Sassi, born February 5, 1975, grew up in Petah Tikva, Israel. Sassi's interest in music grew when he encountered the guitar around the age of 14 during a visit to his uncle. He borrowed it, took some lessons from guitar teachers, but eventually decided to teach himself, practising eight to ten hours a day for years. He left school to focus on his band Orphaned Land. He was the driving force behind it being the main composer, arranger and co-founder. Sassi's always looking for ways to make his music special, and he's also the inventor of the double neck Bouzoukitara. Being a guitarist and producer he blends traditional and contemporary music, rock with world music, melodic tunes with progressive passages, and traditional folk instruments with electric riffs. He plays seventeen different types of guitar and traditional instruments including his Bouzoukitara. Just before he left I could talk shortly to this sympathetic musician.

Maybe a simple question, but would you please explain who Yossi Sassi is?
Yossi Sassi (©Ami Bornstein)
Yossi Sassi: “Well, that's not a simple question at all, but I'll try to give you a short answer. Actually my career began before I was born. My grandfather, the late Yossef Sassi played amongst others the oud, a kind of oriental lute, and the bouzouki. He taught us the eastern musical scales called the Maqamat. All of my ten uncles and aunts play or sing, or do both. I grew up into music from the orient. At the age of seven I played the flute, and after that I participated in the school choir. Then I discovered the guitar, and ever since it was a perfect match. I was listening to various types of music from Iron Maiden to Dead Can Dance and world music, which contributed to the eclectic styles of my compositions, resulting in oriental prog rock and prog metal.”

In my opinion you did some brilliant work with Orphaned Land. The band became gradually more known, also in the Netherlands. Why did you leave the band?
“It was the hardest but also the best decision in my life. I founded the band back in high school more than 24 years ago. I managed the band, led it, grew it, nurtured it and supported it with my compositions. But I felt that I artistically evolved in a different way, and I felt the need to move on to the next big steps in my life. All the right reasons were there at the same time. I must say that I'm very happy about it. I feel free now to do what I really want.”

Well, that leads to the question: what are your ambitions with your music?
“I always strive for the next level of music, the next big thing to discover, sonic-wise and fusion-wise. I love to experiment with sounds and cultures. I explore the boundaries of 'east meets west' for three decades now, and I feel I'm only beginning to unveil its secrets in depth. There is a long way to go and I can't wait to discover more.”

You've got a special double neck instrument. Why did you develop the Bouzoukitara? I read that you are developing a new instrument.
Yossi Sassi with double neck guitar
“I had a clear need to build an instrument between the acoustic bouzouki (a Greek lute, edt) and the electric guitar. This wish led to the creation of a unique instrument, which I called Bouzoukitara. It combines acoustic and electric and an eastern and western instrument. It's a great design and I love to play on it. I always work on crazy ideas. My last invention is a semi-fretted guitar; I took the frets from a Dutch Aristides guitar I had at home and I now I play half-fretted and half-fretless. There's a fun video about it online. I love to experiment with guitars and new techniques to use them.”

How does the political situation in the Middle East affect you?
“Well, it makes me more creative than ever. I live in an area with many wars, disputes, opinions, beliefs, cultures, and so on. I never get bored in such a hectic environment.”

Now you embark on a European tour. Could you tell us something about your band and what can we expect during concerts?
“I'm looking forward to this tour! The live set of the new album Desert Butterflies is a real killer! We have Mariangela Demuratas in the band, a very talented vocalist; she's amazing on stage. We play old and new material from my two solo albums, as well as some favourite tracks from Orphaned Land and maybe some cool covers. Get ready for surprises!”

Thank you for answering my questions!
“You're welcome!”

Yossi Sassi live (from left to right): Ben Azar, Yossi Sassi, Mariangela Demuratas, Shay Ifrah and
Or Lubianiker (©Yuval Erel)

Additional information:
The Yossi Sassi Band have been together since 2011. The band members are all leading Israeli musicians:

Yossi Sassi - Bouzoukitara, vocals
Ben Azar - guitars
Or Lubianiker - bass
Shay Ifrah - drums
Roei Friedman - percussion


Fata Morgana | Live Rehearsal
The meeting point of oriental roots and rock | Yossi Sassi | TEDxJaffa -> Yossi Sassi gives a wonderful explanation about his philosophy on music.

In 2014 Yossi Sassi completed his album Desert Butterflies. He just embarked on a European tour and he will do two great shows in the Netherlands:

December 7, 2015: W2 Poppodium, Den Bosch
December 8, 2015: Cultuurpodium Boerderij, Zoetermeer

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