Amir Oosman is a drummer, producer, engineer and manager for the hip-hop/soul group . He and the Los Angeles-based band are currently touring California, recently playing at Sacramento State’s Wednesday Nooner series, in support of their most recent album “Manj.”
Speaking with Oosman, we covered the origin of Joomanji and his place in the band and the music world.
Emiliano: Has drumming and production been a life-long pursuit for you or is that something you started with Joomanji?
Amir Oosman: As far as drumming goes, that started earlier in life. Probably around when I was 12. I started on a drum set and basically played in school groups through college, and Joomanji was actually one of my first passionate projects. It’s a band I pieced together with a couple of other guys I went to school with. Them being, Robert Finucane on keys and Jonah Christian who is also a keyboard player/beatmaker. The three of us formed the group in undergrad during – Jonah and myself – our sophomore year.
On the production side of things, Jumanji actually influenced me to produce. I didn’t actually start producing till a little later on when I was maybe 20 or so. I started to learn some more programs on the computer, Jonah put me onto Ableton and then in grad school I made a point to take a lot of engineering classes for ProTools and started engineering sessions for other bands. It now has come to a point where it’s great that all three of us can contribute production, engineering and mixing, as well as the compositional side of the music.
E: What do you think it was about Joomanji specifically that made you so passionate?
A: I think it was just very different for me. I just started to get a little bit more comfortable in my own skin as a drummer and Jonah and Rob both opened my ear up to hip-hop, soul and funk. Rob has a really incredible taste in the classic 70’s type of music and Jonah has a really great variety of Jamaican music/90’s hip-hop music that I’d never heard, including producer J Dilla, The Roots and Erykah Badu. There was all this music coming my way between the two of them that I really gravitated towards.
The way we really started was Jonah had his beat tape with maybe 10 or 12 beats that he had made through the course of high school and college and I had never heard anything like it. So, we started to preform them live as a trio around our college and then just slowly added musicians and singer. The core knit of the group was just this organic, grass-roots, ‘let’s just try stuff, let’s just experiment.’ Nothing forced, just everything natural. That’s why I think we’ve stayed together this long and that’s why we continue to feed off of each other and influence each other. It’s a big part of why I think the group works well together.
E: You guys also tour around California as Joomanji correct?
A: Yeah, definitely.
E: When you’re on the road, what are you guys listening to in the car when you’re together?
A: Recently, on the car ride up [to Sacramento], we had been listening to the new Kendrick Lamar “untitled unmastered.” We try to circulate something new as well as old playlists that Rob puts together or something that Jonah might have put together. Classic tracks, like Jill Scott or Erykah Badu. Most of the time on the car rides, if there is a new record out, we try and grab that and really engage ourselves. I remember a few tours back when “To Pimp a Butterfly” had come out, by Kendrick Lamar, we all quietly listened through it top to bottom and it was interesting to experience it all together, you know what I mean? You all kind of talk about your experiences with your first listen. It’s fun and engaging to see how everyone else reacted to it.
E: Do you think that helps inspire your passion in music when it becomes a more communal experience?
A: Definitely. That’s a huge part of why we respect each other so much; we’re open to each other’s critiques and each other’s opinions verses being closed off. We all care about each other and want to know how everyone thinks and how everything effects each of us as far as the music goes, and writing goes and shows go.
E: On Joomanji’s most recent album, “Manj,” you guys worked with Carlitta Durand of the Foreign Exchange on the song “Divided.” How did that collaboration come about?
A: That was all through Jonah. He had found a channel to reach out to Carlitta, maybe through a mutual friend online and she responded to the track and fortunately enough recorded on it. That was a unique collaboration where we broke out of our shell and went for some guest artists.
The entire record, “Manj,” that full length you can see track-to-track there is a lot of different vocalists and that really showcased – there’s a cohesive sound but there are a lot of different vocal arrangements going on around the production and around the instrumentation. We still kind of keep that hip-hop, jazz, soul vibe going on throughout but tying it all together with different vocalists is still a challenge. We still work with a lot of guest vocalists, but now when we tour we’ve really honed in on Lindsay Olsen and Austin Answan as our vocalists. It makes people identify with the group a little easier now that we have a core group.
E: Do you have a favorite track off of “Manj”?
A: Honestly, my favorite track off that album is “Around the World.” It’s always kind of been, mainly because of the way we recorded it. The experience of writing and recording that track was definitely something I won’t ever forget.
E: Could you explain that experience?
A: Basically, Jonah came down to LA to visit me, before we had all moved permanently down to Los Angeles, Austin and myself were going to school at the California Institute of Arts. Basically, we were in the studio; I booked out an entire weekend just to see what we could come up with. Jonah came through and we just started fiddling around and he just started playing this piano line, and we looped it, and then I went and recorded a few drum lines over each other. The sketch of the track was there, we kind of took some breaks but we didn’t really leave the studio.
The real magic had happened when we found this loop Jonah had done in Ableton of live instrumentation. I called Austin over and he wrote a really great hook and a great verse and it kind of just started turning into cold calling musicians, like, “Hey, I want sax. Hey, I want flute. Cool, I went to school with someone who did that. Do you know anyone who speaks Portuguese or French? Do you know any keyboard players, bass players?” It was one after another and it turned into this twenty hour session where every thirty minutes were just like a big party. People were coming in to add to the track but in their own unique way. It really ties in with the song.