In-Depth: Montreal’s Nahji

It was a hot July afternoon when I sat on a cold marble bench huddled in a crowded cafe in Old Montreal. I was excited to meet Lebanese-Canadian musician Paul-Marc Hannouche, the brilliant mind behind Nahji, which I learned also happens to be his middle name.

As crowd after crowd filtered through the converted bank, a large space with perhaps too much gold filigree, I couldn’t help but wonder if the setting was suitable for interviewing such an artist, considering the sea of business suits that I now found myself in.

After all, his track “Tidal” takes such an insightful glimpse into the heart and I imagined him as being an incredibly wise and intuitive artist.

“I think it’s really introverted, but it’s meant to be extroverted,…”

Paul-Marc Hannouche (Nahji)

When I caught his eye across the cafe and went to greet him, I was surprised to learn how soft spoken and genuinely humble he is. Given that “Tidal” reminded me so much of the The Beatles later in their career, I had to mention it to him right away. Hannouche was happy that I picked up on that and mentioned how he actually grew up listening to the group. He was influenced by them when he created this track, but also the sounds of The Beach Boys and Animal Collective had a role in the song’s composition as well.

While the first demo of the track didn’t have guitars, the guitar accompaniment came in later when his long-time friend Christian Sean joined him.

Nahji’s “Tidal” is now available on Bandcamp.| Photo credit: Eve Veronneau

“We were really influenced by guitar oriented music when we were younger, so he decided to add that in.”

But Sean and Hannouche have been creating music together for a long time, since they were pre-teens in fact, and that harmony and comfort with each other’s sound really comes out in “Tidal.”

“We’ve always worked really closely together. We’ve always made music. I played in his bands, he played in my bands. We always evolved and we’re finally kind of settling in on our own projects now.”

But Hannouche explains that while the track was inspired by break-ups, it’s actually about more than simply one person.

“One of my ex-girlfriends told me that it was kind of about a muse, not about a certain person, and I think that remains true,” Hannouche said.

Hannouche’s involvement with music and Montreal’s music scene has been extensive over the years, playing in several bands, including Bright Fuchsia who he still plays with. He is also a multi-instrumentalist, able to play the guitar, the accordion, the drums, and the keyboard.

It is the last two instruments that he brings to life through Nahji on “Tidal.” But he explains that it was a difficult transition between the drums and the keyboard, a transition he made via the accordion.

“I picked up the accordion, which was actually that was one of my first keyboard instruments,” Hannouche said. “It’s really intense, a haunting instrument really. It’s really tough because it’s 120 base notes from the left side, which are not even notes they’re chords, and then you get a keyboard on the right side.”

“It’s important not to put anything in the box, that includes your mental. well-being,…”

Paul-Marc Hannouche (Nahji)

But ask Hannouche how he described his sound, I was actually pretty surprised by the answer.

“I think it’s really introverted, but it’s meant to be extroverted,” Hannouche said. “I want to speak out. I want people to relate to my music, just like anybody I think.”

Perhaps that is what is so mysteriously appealing about “Tidal,” that there is an introverted resonance struggling to be heard in a loud world. And perhaps that is what Hannouche under the moniker Nahji is all about.

But Hannouche also mentioned that music is an evolving entity, a type of expression that can not be bound by the old ways of doing things and the new flashy ways that everyone is gravitating towards at any time. That said, he doesn’t shy away from experimenting with sound.

“I’m constantly looking for new ways, for new methods, of making music and communicating what I’m feeling.”

Yet, in “Tidal” there is a distinct homage to his influences, any longtime fan of The Beatles can hear it, but he truly does spin those influences in a profound way.

He has also learned some great lessons as a musician over the years that has aided him in finding his distinct sound.

“It’s important not to put anything in the box, that includes your mental. well-being,” Hannouche said. “And I think one of the main things that I’ve learned, is just always keep yourself free. Move on as quickly as possible, even if something is good, we cannot work on it for years, but constantly write new things.”

Yet, as with any artist, Hannouche admitted to “having a serious problem with gear” in that he loves buying, trading, and upgrading gear. So much so that he’s had over 20 synthesizers in the last couple of years. But that is also a sign of Hannouche’s love for music, of his devotion to perfect his craft.

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