Jelena from Tunisian symphonic metallers Persona sat down to chat with us about the Tunisian metal scene, Tunisian food and their excellent debut record Elusive Reflections, easily one of my favorite releases of the year so far.
Hello, and welcome to the Toilet Ov Hell! For those unfamiliar with the band, tell us a bit about yourselves, your influences (bands and otherwise) and the history of the band.
Jelena: Hi Shaun, and thanks a lot for this interview! Persona started in 2012, first as a project between Melik (lead guitarist) and me (vocals). We were first experimenting and composing for fun, but eventually decided to form an actual band. Yosri (guitars) joined soon afterwards, followed by our drummer Youssef, then Walid (keyboard) and Nesrine (bass), who is the newest band member. Our influences are quite diverse. Melik prefers thrash, death and heavy metal bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Death, Pantera, Led Zeppelin… Yosri is more progressive/djent bands like Opeth, Tesseract… Nesrine, Walid and I all love classical music, but Nesrine’s more into gothic/symphonic metal bands like Nightwish, Xandria, Tristania… Walid is into symphonic bands like Nightwish, Epica, Within Temptation… I mostly prefer progressive/power stuff like Dream Theater, Kamelot, Myrath, Leprous… Our drummer Youssef loves everything with rich and complicated drum work; Mike Portnoy is one of his absolute favorites. But besides metal we all listen to many different kinds of music. Personally I love jazz, progressive rock and classical music.
How would you describe the metal scene over in Tunisia, and the culture in general? I showed a friend some of your music and Myrath’s, and they said “the Middle East is making some good metal nowadays!” I had to explain to them that Tunisia isn’t in the Middle East.
Well, as for the culture, it’s best to come and see for yourself! 😉 The country is quite liberal, people are nice and helpful, tradition is important and respected, but not too imposing. Metal scene exists, but it’s not very strong because of all the obstacles bands must face to achieve something. Here we lack all conditions that are considered normal in Europe and US. There are no labels, recording studios or producers that specialize in rock/metal, there are no festivals, and there’s a serious lack of venues where concerts for this kind of music could be held. I hope those things will change in the future.
The vocals definitely have a bit of an opera feeling to them at times. I was curious if you’ve had operatic training, or if it’s self taught?
You really think so? Personally, I’d say there’s maybe a bit of “opera” touch in “Torn,” but not anywhere else. I did have some classical singing training, but I’m not a big fan of operatic vocals in metal music, sometimes and in small doses yes, but not all the time.
Awesome artwork, btw! I was wondering if that was taken from a photograph and then done, or if it was something that was done completely from scratch.
Thank you, I’m glad you like it! It is based on a photograph, but most of it is graphic work by our friend and artist Bader Klidi. The “real” things in it are the mirror (later a bit stylized and modified), me and my reflection in the mirror.
What are some good Tunisian recipes?
Hmmm… First I’d recommend Couscous 😉 That’s one of the most popular dishes in the whole North Africa and very tasty – steamed little balls of semolina that you can eat with different kinds of cooked vegetables, with meat or without. You also need a special couscous pot – food steamer – to prepare it.
There’s also a dish called Mloukhia, made of juta leaves and cooked for many hours in olive oil.
Any good Tunisian movies you’d recommend?
Hmmm… I must admit I haven’t seen that many Tunisian movies despite of living here for almost five years ;). I’d recommend Horra (Libre) by Tunisian director Moez Kamoun – I also made music for that movie and it was a great experience :). Besides that I’d recommend Khoussouf – Eclipses, the latest movie of Fadhel Jaziri, one of the most important Tunisian directors.
What are some of the future plans for the band so far? Any plans to tour the US?
We’re currently preparing some new music videos, getting ready for the first round of the official international “Hard Rock” café competition that will take place in Sousse, Tunisia, on June 1st, and planning some summer/fall concerts here in Tunisia and abroad as well. The US are not yet on that list, because it’s quite far and requires a lot of budget and organization, but we hope it won’t be too long before we get there too!
Thanks so much for the interview, and best of luck to you (along with Myrath) bringing Tunisian metal to the world!
Jelena: Thank you, Shaun, it was a pleasure!