Wassym Zaz followed his dream down to San Francisco, 6,000 miles from his home. Wassym is a guitarist who has decided to leave his home country of Morocco to pursue a music career in the United States.
He has a Bachelor’s degree in engineering and management sciences from Al Akhawayn University. Wassym first picked up the guitar in 2002 when he was fourteen. He only took two months of guitar lessons over his course of playing. He says, “I still haven’t finished all the homework my teacher gave me. The lessons were filled with challenging exercises and improvisation tools that require an understanding of music theory and how it relates to the guitar fret board. Wassym would practice guitar for five to six hours a day. He also took singing lessons for two years from a lady named Cristi Caro. Cristi is a member on the jury of Studio 2M, which is the Moroccan version of American Idol.
Wassym fell in love with music and decided that he wanted to turn his passion into a profession. Wassym decided to email a man named Malek, who is a star in the music industry of Morocco, about advice on breaking into the Moroccan music industry. Wassym sent Malek samples of a few of his songs for him to listen to. Malek responded to Wassym telling him, “I took the time to listen to all your music with a lot of attention. I think your music sounds great; however, there is not a place for this type of music here in Moroccan music industry.”
He then suggested Wassym move to the United States if he wished to pursue a career in his style of music. Wassym realized he would not be able to achieve his dream in Morocco, so he decided to move to the United States where he felt he would have a better chance to achieve his dream. His parents agreed to give him financial help for two years to pursue a career in music.
Three months ago, Wassym arrived in Pleasant Hill, California. He has since been taking classes at the Pleasanton Hill DVC campus music department. It was on a corkboard in the DVC music department where I found a note posted. It read, “Guitarist looking for others musicians to start a band.”
I emailed him and we met up to jam a few days later. We sat for three hours in the Guitar Center acoustic room in Walnut Creek bouncing back and forth guitar riffs and song ideas. At this time, Wassym had only been in the United States for two weeks. He seemed intrigued by American culture and asked me what places he should visit. I told him about San Francisco, Berkeley, and some other places that have come to define the Bay Area.
Regardless of our cultural differences, we were able to connect through music. I think that music is the universal language of sound. No matter if you are from China, Africa, or California, you will be able to share a common bond with other people through playing music. It is an interesting experience to be able to connect so strongly with another person through music, despite all our differences in cultural traditions and way of life.
Since then, we have been jamming together and keeping in touch with each other’s musical careers and pursuits. Wassym told me that he would be playing in a DVC music concert on December 9, where he was to be the Master of Ceremony. I brought a pen and a notebook with a list of questions in it to the concert with me. I met him in a music classroom before the show, which was being used as the rehearsal room. He told me that the purpose of the concert was to “Transcend genres by bringing together a variety of styles.”
I was still amused by the fact that he was driven so passionately by music that he decided to pursue a career in it an ocean away from his family. He told me that, “I only feel satisfied when playing music. I have a deep respect for the natural and authentic music that has been created over the years. I wanted to move to the Bay Area to create my music, because I feel that if I moved to Los Angeles, my music would be stained with the commercial attitude that is forced upon much of the new music coming out today.”
Some of Wassym’s major influences are Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Pain of Salvation, Cold Play, Diablo Swing Orchestra, and Guthrie Govan.
“Alright, it’s time for you boys to head out, the girls need to get changed in here,” one of the female vocalists called out to Wassym and I in the rehearsal room. “It’s okay I don’t mind, go ahead,” Wassym told her. “Good try, time for you leave!” she told us. Wassym and I headed to the door laughing.
Wassym was not the same person I met in Guitar Center three months ago. He seemed so comfortable hanging out and joking around with people who he had just met months earlier. He had found a sense of belonging and community of friends in Pleasant Hill through a common love for music. Music has the ability to transcend races, cultures, and differences through its universal language. An E chord is and E chord, no matter where you are located. Music has been bringing people together to create, play and listen to a sound form of art for thousands of years.
The concert began with three musicians speaking to the crowd to introduce Wassym. After the introduction, Wassym took the stage. He stumbled on, tripping over a guitar cable on his way there. He spoke into the microphone and said to the crowd, “I want to thank everyone for coming here tonight to support the DVC music students. We want to bring you a show that encompasses the variety of styles that make up music. For this reason, we have decided to title this concert The Transgender Show. Wait... No. Transcending Genres.” Wassym and the crowd burst out into laughter. Realizing his error, he played it off with humor capturing the crowd’s attention in the process.
The first song he played was titled, “Halloween.” This song has dark and spooky sounding chords that suit the song’s story about a vampire who is shunned from society everyday, except for his birthday on Halloween. His second and final song, “Oversilence” has vocal melodies that swim through the piece and test his vocal abilities. The crowd yelled with applause as he concluded his set.
The show completed with jazz, alterative, rap and rock performances. Everyone gathered up onstage afterwards to compliment the musicians on their performances. After that, Wassym and I headed out to our cars to go home.
On the drive home, I couldn’t help but thinking about the power that music has in bringing people together and giving them guidance in their lives. Many people look to their favorite artist’s lyrics for words of inspiration and direction. People are able to relate to an artist’s lyrics and recognize that they are not alone in whatever situation they are going through. The Beatles, Hendrix and countless others have made a great impact on generations of their listeners through their song’s messages about life.
Jimi Hendrix once said, “If there is something to be changed in the world, then it can only happen through music.” Wassym and I look to push boundaries and create positivity through our music. Only time can tell where our music and lives will lead us.
(You can check out Wassym's music and current projects on his website.)