Traveling down the coast of California alongside Hooveriii, the Spain-based experimental group Mohama Saz has captured the minds and hearts of any psych rock lover lucky enough to bear witness. Electrified by the release of their latest project "Quemar las Naves", Mohama Saz crossed language barriers and boundaries by bringing an anciently familiar vibe and groove to California stages.
Photo by: Spenser Judd
A few months ago, I was able to catch Mohama Saz twice in one week. To say the least, I had my mind obliterated by their blend of Eastern psych rock and tropicalia. The distorted baglama instantly transported me to familiar tones of bands like Mdou Moctar and Altin Gun yet there was something different tossed into the mix. The callback chants and percussion gave me a warm vibe that I often associate with African psych rock or tropicalia and their use of wah pedals and spaced-out synths quickly took me away from the causal settings of Zebulon and Gold-Digger's to a more ethereal yet familiar state of being. I was caught in the flow of their instruments and vibrations to that point where nothing matters, but the groove.
Every member is tuned into the same wavelength. They're master jammers from beyond. Their lead singer Javier knows how to keep the rhythms in flow with drummer Adrain and bassist David and having Inigo on Keys is like having waves in the sea. It works wonders and keeps the dynamics or atmosphere on point. Like many other psych bands, their live shows are the best way to enjoy their music because the energy doesn't lie. (neither do those wah pedals ;;))
Sure anyone can buy studio time and spend money on a marketing budget to get you to listen to their songs, but no one can truly fake the funk felt at a buzzing concert. These guys know how tap into the moment and bring the audience along for the ride. No filler, no fluff, it's all love. Love for the craft, the fans, and the vibe, Mohama Saz is as genuine as they come. Go check out their music and gather your own conclusion, better yet catch them live the next time they grace the coast or wherever you reside.
I had the opportunity to pull up to Highland Park and catch up with the band downstairs in the green room of Zebulon.
Here's what they had to say:
Q: How’s the tour been so far for you all?
Adrian: So nice, for us it’s like “what a country” the people are so nice and the sound at the shows is amazing everywhere. We’re enjoying it a lot. In Spain, we knew when we came here, our music would be exotic and the people would love it.
Q: How have the crowds been in California?
Adrian: Yeah we knew things would be happening out here, but not like this. It’s been amazing for us out here.
Q: How are the shows in Spain? What are the local music scenes like?
Adrian: In Spain, there are a lot of gigs and music, but there aren't many bands like us. Out here, the people make us feel like we have something special.
Javier: We do have more gigs in Europe, outside of Spain than we do in Spain. We think that people in the rest of Europe have an open mind to our sound.
We know that here in LA, because of Mock Records who released our last album, fun people know the band and we’re very happy that all these people come to the gigs with more of a reference of us. This has been great for us because all these gigs have allowed us to sell out of our records.
We’ve been in LA, Costa Mesa, Santa Cruz, and Santa Barbara touring with Hooveriii and it feels great. That connection with the people has been easy, more so than in Spain. We feel lucky.
Q: So you’ve all been recording since 2014? What’s it been like growing as a band over the years?
Javier: Yes we started the band in the middle of 2014.
Adrian: We’ve been playing for 7 years. This band started as a joke. Javi got a baglama and we were just jamming in a rehearsal room and then a friend came into the room and said, “Hey, my birthday’s next week and I’m going to have a party with shows. What is this?” and we were like, “we’re just jamming” and he’s like, “this is incredible, do you want to play with this?” In a week, we played the party and the crowd was insane going “ooh, you’re amazing” and we were just like “well looks like we have to continue with this.” (laughs)
After that party, we started playing a festival here, another festival there. We were supporting King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard in Madrid when they came the first time. Things like that just started happening.
Inigo: We were playing in a lot of places that we never thought would be possible. We were playing in Slovenia, Italy, France, Portugal, and out here. Playing out here as a band from Spain is very difficult. We’re lucky to be friends with the boss, Michael.
Michael: We’re not friends after this. (everyone laughs)
Adrian: So over the 7 years, we’ve been doing little things and little things. We recorded four albums, so it’s been moving a bit slowly, but we haven't stopped.
Javier: Yes, it’s not an easy form of music you know. It’s different and not very mainstream, very experimental but at the same time a really good vibe that connects very well with an audience.
Q: When you all write songs now, do you all start with a jam, or is there a different process?
Adrian: Yeah, in the beginning, the songs were based on compositions and jamming. Over time, we’ve been paying more attention to the structures.
Javier: The best songs of Mohama Saz always start with jamming. When we create as a band together, it’s the best way to connect between us and to connect to the people. Sometimes, one of us comes up with a little idea to get developed by the rest of us. I think it’s the little secret to Mohama Saz, the jamming and to take all these elements from east Europe and North Africa. You know for us, it's all a good influence but we’re not forcing it. It’s our sound.
Adrian: It’s not usual to compose what we do. Usually it starts with a riff on the baglama and then we’re like “oh, let’s try this, lets try this”. We are a live band. You listen to the albums and they are good, but it’s nothing like the live experience.
Q: How did you get into adding effect pedals with the baglama and keyboards?
Javier: I was at a festival about 8 years ago more or less and I saw a band called Baza Zula from Turkey. For me, it was the first time I saw that instrument and I thought, “wow this is crazy”. The way I play baglama in the band was similar to the way I was playing guitar.
There’s more rhythm with the percussion and I was already using pedals before so I was like, “I need to try it with this new instrument.”
After the festival, I had an opportunity to go to Turkey with a friend of mine and we went to Istanbul just to find this. Once I was there, I had to contact someone to build a custom instrument for me since traditional baglama doesn’t pair with pedals. After that, I connected with other people to watch them play and I discovered the way to play is not like a normal guitar. It’s different, but if you play that instrument like a guitar, it’ll sound like a guitar. So that doesn’t make sense, if you want that sound you can just play guitar you know.
So I started to take lessons out there and some in Spain. I can’t pretend to play like a Turkish man, but it’s like how a Finnish man might play flamenco. You know you can, but that’s not my intention. My intention is to take the sound of the instrument to play our music, not to play Turkish music. I use the instrument only and we take all the references we like and now we’re experimenting with music we like from South America, North Africa and of course, Eastern Europe like the Balkans. I like the sound of the instrument of course and it’s very important to the band because it's the origin.
Maybe in the future, we’ll play with more guitars. We started with a lot of percussion of wind instruments and now we’ve moved to keyboards and it sounds great, it works. Maybe tomorrow we’ll move back to more percussion, but yes we’re very open to experimenting.
Q: Do you all have anything that you’re looking forward to after this year?
Adrian: Yeah, we want to record a new album as soon as possible. Maybe in a few months, we’ll be recording again.
David: We have some concerts in the south of Spain, right?
Adrian: Yeah, we have some shows lined up in Spain but right now we want to focus on recording again.
Q: So what’s been your takeaway from this tour so far or experience in America?
Adrian: After playing here, we noticed our music will be great playing it anywhere. You know, if it’s great out here, it’ll be great everywhere else. Playing out here to all these people and playing at places where so many artists have performed before us, it’s all been like a dream, you know. (laughs)
Javier: For us, it’s been amazing. All the places were incredible and the people connected with us as if we've been playing here every year.
Adrian: Yes, we’ve felt a lot of respect too. It’s like when American bands come to Spain and everyone’s like, “Woah” and then you come back to LA and you’re like just another band again. We are very happy because we knew this was going to happen, you know.
Javier: Yes, it’s all been a fantastic experience.
Photo by: Spenser Judd