Tamino on Lana Del Rey, Personal Sacrifice, and Revisiting ‘Amir’

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Belgium-based artist Tamino captivated audiences with the release of his debut album, Amir, earlier this year. His sound is a melancholy marriage of effortless guitar licks, the occasional note from the Arabic scale, and his spellbinding voice, which is both unique in tone and absolutely astonishing in range. 

In the midst of a flurry of shows, he announced a deluxe version of Amir, complete with two brand new songs, “From Every Pore” and “Crocodile,” live recordings with the Nagham Zikrayat orchestra, demos, and live recordings from his show at La Cigale in Paris. The deluxe version of his album hits virtual shelves on October 18, but Tamino has continued his substantial tour schedule in the meantime, most recently playing shows in Tunisia and Egypt. 

We sat down with Tamino at the tail end of his North American tour to talk opening for Lana Del Rey, his grandfather’s guitar, the difference between Western and Arabic orchestras, and more.

OTW: How are you? You’ve been consistently on the move this year!

Tamino: The bike ride I just took did me well. We might do it in every city now. You see a lot of the city you’re visiting in a short amount of time. It’s really cool. 

OTW: Are there cities that you’re looking forward to hitting on your upcoming tour? 

Tamino: I’m very much looking forward to the Middle Eastern tour, because it’s the first time I’m playing in my Fatherland, Egypt. It’s the first time I’m playing in Morocco and Tunisia. We’re going to play some shows in Turkey as well. I don’t recall many artists who have gone there, and it’s a shame. There’s a lot of fans of alternative and indie music over there, so I’m looking forward to it. 

OTW: Your show at the Moroccan was incredible. How did you learn to play guitar? 

Tamino: My Belgian uncle taught me like three chords, I think they were A, B, and G. But then the rest of it I learned by myself, and I got some lessons too. I found my grandfather’s guitar in Cairo and I took it home, and that was the moment I decided I wanted to learn guitar. 

OTW: Do you still play on your grandfather’s guitar?

Tamino: That one I use quite often yes. The resonator guitar, it was made in Egypt. 

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OTW: You’ve mentioned that your music features the Arabic scale, which can be new or confusing to the Western ear. How have Western audiences perceived that sound?

Tamino: Well, I myself am Western. Half of my family is Arabic, and I have a strong connection to those countries, but I grew up in Belgium. I only ever play for audiences who don’t know Arabic music well. I know the scales and what’s special about them, though I don’t consider myself an expert, but I think the way it comes through in my music is very natural. I don’t feel like Western crowds have difficulty with it at all. I think the songs are the most important thing, and it’s all about songwriting. The Arabic elements, a quarter note here and there, is not in the way of them experiencing the music in my opinion.

OTW: One of the most interesting things about being at your show was seeing the level of focus in the crowd. Your fans are clearly hardcore. Have you had any memorable fan interactions on this leg of the tour?

Tamino: All the time. They all touch me. What’s funny to see is that there’s people from all sorts of backgrounds and ages, I find that really cool. I also noticed that there could be people whose other favorite artists are hip-hop artists. There could be people who mainly listen to classical music, but they are all coming together at my show. I’m always amazed to see that. People travel from far to see the shows, because I’m not yet playing in every town. I don’t want them to have to travel that far. I’m hoping to play shows closer to their towns. 

OTW: Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Tamino: I wish I had more of them! Today’s bike ride was really cool, maybe I will make it one of my rituals. I do like to warm up my voice for at least half an hour if possible. Scales and some improvisation before running a marathon. 

OTW: Let’s talk about the deluxe version of your album, Amir. What sparked the decision to include the live recordings with the ones that were produced out?

Tamino: We did some live sessions with Nagham Zikrayat, the orchestra that recorded on the record. They play exactly like an Arabic orchestra from the 1950s, or before that even. They are very good at creating the same sound as back then, which I really love. They’re very nice and amazing musicians, so we recorded live with them in one room and we took some videos of that as well, which will be released soon. Then there are some demos and B sides on the deluxe as well. 

OTW: When you work with the orchestra, what is your role? Are you acting as director, arranger, and conductor or are you letting them do their thing?

Tamino: I wrote all of the melodies for the parts, but I don’t know how to arrange for an orchestra. So I had an arranger come in and write down which instruments should play what, and he also conducted it. I was at the recording desk, listening, and would tell them if I wanted it a bit more dramatic or held back. The cool thing about Arabic musicians is that they will always do their own thing with it. They will play what’s written on the paper but add their own improvisational ornaments. We had one song played by two different orchestras actually, one Arabic and one Western. I would compare the versions and the difference was huge, totally different vibe, though they were given the same arrangements. 

OTW: Did you have a preference between the orchestras?

Tamino: Definitely the Arabic. Not for every song though. For “Persephone,” I wanted a more straight dance on that one, so I went with the Western ensemble.

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OTW: The last year has been very big for you, with the release of your debut album Amir being so successful. You also recently opened for Lana Del Rey! How was that?

Tamino: I supported her in Dublin, and it was a lovely experience. She is really, really cool and very kind. It was a total honor and I felt like the people in Dublin really embraced me. It’s always scary to do a support show because you never know if people will pay attention to you, but they were so nice and it was a great experience.

OTW: Can we expect any collabs between the two of you or is that just wishful thinking?

Tamino: I don’t know about any of that, I’m totally not in a position of assuming such a thing. (laughs)

OTW: You’re really far from home, what does your family think about the success that you’ve had? 

Tamino: My father was a singer. His father was a big singer in the Arabic world. He understands, but my mom understands as well. They are very supportive. They just hope that I’m doing well and find it important that whatever takes me away from home has to be worth the sacrifice. When you’re in this profession, there is a lot of sacrifice, so it has to be worth it, you know?

OTW: What do you hope to do with music in the coming year?

Tamino: I have no answer for that, I only know that I’m going to take some time off and write new stuff and then come back. It goes where it goes. It reaches whoever it reaches, and I hope it reaches many. The way my life has been organized for the last three years has been a lot of playing, and there wasn’t much time to think about anything or write. So, I will probably fall into a black hole–into my time of rest, but then, afterward, I hope to come back with a new record and do some touring again—play bigger venues, reach more people, reach more places.

OTW: That will be a much-deserved hibernation. Finally, who are your Ones To Watch? 

Tamino: That’s really difficult. I mainly listen to older music, if I listen to anything. The ones I have in mind are already big! I guess good music finds people, so they don’t need a shoutout from me. 

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