Primary Instrument: Guitar
Born in Gibraltar, a small peninsula on the southernmost tip of Spain, musician, singer and songwriter Elie Massias, moved to New York in 1994 and since has garnered critical acclaim and has played on and produced dozens of recordings.
Known for his guitar work and improvisation skills, Elie illuminates audiences with the beauty and intricacies of Jazz, Flamenco, Middle Eastern, Sephardic and rock music he grew up with. During his live performances, Elie sings and plays acoustic and electric guitar, soprano saxophone and Wavedrum while using a sampler to create loops in real-time.
Drawing from his experiences living in Israel, Europe and the US, Elie effortlessly unifies these vast musical genres and was named one of the top 10 artists of the U.S. North East by Billboard Magazine at the Independent Music World Series 2007.
The Wandering Muse
Picture Massias recast several traditional songs, including a fragment from Psalms and a segment of the grace after meals, as simple vamps decorated with beautifully improvised melodies, limpid chords and flamenco licks; and he thickened the texture by looping his own guitar accompaniment in order to add layers of additional melody and rhythm, and occasionally
Elie Massias picking up a soprano saxophone or drumming on a cajon. He sang in a mixture of Hebrew and the Gibraltar variant of Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish; but he sometimes simply scatted along with his own instrumental improvisations, in a voice that was alternately breathy and keening.
Massias reminded me of the Benin-born jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke. Like Loueke, Massias has forged something new and distinctive from the music he grew up with. But while Loueke has fused traditional West African palmwine guitar with jazz and electronic effects, Massias draws upon the unique musical culture of his native Gibraltar—a culture that was influenced by both Spain and Morocco. (Like those of many Gibraltan Jews, Massias’ ancestors came from Tetuan, a Moroccan port city to which large numbers of Iberian Jews fled following their expulsion from Spain in 1492.) Other Sephardic performers have engaged in similar projects—Sarah Aroeste and Pharaoh’s Daughter both come to mind—but few have conveyed such a profound sense of spontaneity and freshness.
Tabletmag.com / Alexander Gelfand
Elie's guitar textures and effects recall stylists as diverse as Bill Frisell, John Abercrombie and Bern Nix. DownBeat Magazine / John Anders
Massias has a command of the guitar that extends from the fingerboard to the amplifier, from the lightest acoustic play to R&B. Cadence Magazine / Stuart Broomer