Nadim Azzam found a passion for music after he underwent a solo teen wilderness experience, and he hasn’t stopped since.
A solo teen wilderness experience motivated Nadim Azzam’s musical career. While outdoors, he found himself humming before gradually singing, and that became the first phase of an interest in contemporary composing.
Now, at 23, he has a repertoire that can place him on stages as a soloist or with a live band and electronic instruments.
During the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, June 14-July 7, Azzam will perform his own songs — hip-hop, alt rock, jazz fusion — with vocals and acoustic guitar as joined by Jacob LaChance on saxophone, David Ward on drums and Alex Fuchs on bass.
Azzam will be part of the Top of the Park lineup, which spotlights local entertainers in free programming. This year’s mainstage ticketed acts include Melissa Etheridge, The Capitol Steps and Dawes.
“Most of my songs are written to myself,” says Azzam, who describes his teen years as rebellious. “A lot of them are about expressing struggle and pain while still trying to be hopeful. They can be about feeling lost while trying to find a way, wanting to become a better person and living up to potential.”
Apparently, his online songs resonated with Matisyahu because, with a little prompting from a mutual friend, the famed Jewish singer invited Azzam on a college tour in 2016.
“I opened for Matisyahu with an acoustic solo set,” Azzam recalls. “I also performed with him in freestyle accompanied by the band. It was invigorating because he writes music that is so spiritual, honest and real on a mainstream platform.
“Matisyahu was on a unity tour, and I felt I could be in the middle of that. My mom’s background is Jewish with Ukrainian roots, and my dad has Egyptian and Palestinian roots.”
Azzam started playing guitar before imagining it as a career. A neighbor got him started. He later took lessons at the Ann Arbor Music Center.
“When I was out in the wilderness for three days, I stared at a blade of grass for a couple hours, started singing to myself and came up with a melody,” he explains. “Something just clicked, and I knew I wanted to be a vocalist.”
Azzam’s early writing concentrated on raps, and he used them as the basis for songs, some worked into EPs “Here’s to Changes” in 2015 and “Sunny Flats” in 2019.
He attributes part of his musical progress to an internship at X.O Productions, a Detroit hip-hop studio.
“When I got back from the Matisyahu tour, I had a little money and spent it on production equipment,” says Azzam, who teaches songwriting at Ann Arbor’s Neutral Zone Youth Center and works as a marketing specialist for The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor.
“I experiment with ideas I have no other way to express, and I’m moving toward a more modern, soulful, R&B sound. I’ll be producing more electronic stuff on the computer.”
Nadim Azzam will perform free at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 18, on the Rackham Stage during the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, June 14-July 7. For festival details, go to a2sf.org.