We had a great evening last night when multi-instrumentalist/ethnomusicologist/world musician Abaji paid us a visit. He and his music business partner, Fabrice Absil (both from Paris) were in Hollywood for a symposium and several meetings with film scoring and music library contacts and had been urged by Abaji’s good friend Ben (Benoît Meulle-Stef, this time with the proper accent circonflexe included) to pay the Miner Museum a visit.
If his name sounds familiar, it’s because Abaji (accent on the last syllable zhee) has been on the Harpguitars.net Players page from day one. He was one of the very few players we knew of at the time, and/but was soon moved down to the “Non-Conventional” section (which he loves) as he uses his Markneukirchen harp guitar in an unusual way. In lieu of sub-basses, he strings the harp section with high sitar-like drones. I of course relished the opportunity to tease him in person about stringing a harp guitar “wrong” and “playing it backward,” while he chided me with “no, just different!” He’s right of course, and I’m obviously no stranger to using traditional instruments in non-traditional ways. “Different” should probably be Abaji’s middle name. But first, he needs a last one. Oh, that is his surname. We learned that his was not some “Madonna”-like affectation, but his family name which he chose to honor, as they are a 4-generation musical family (with diverse and complex cultural roots to boot).
As I hope you can tell, we hit it off very well – this man has an emotional and infectious multi-cultural personality with more wit, passion, intelligence, sensitivity and energy than a dozen Greggs and Benoîts combined. Frank stopped by and was thoroughly entertained as well (as was Abaji by Frank’s Wingert harp guitar).
Had he stayed a week, I doubt that Abaji would have left an instrument untouched, especially as he probably plays them all, or if not, can make it up on the spot. He was like a kid in a candy store, but so was I, watching him “wake up” (his expression) virtually all of the obscure wind and reed instruments that are completely beyond me. He got authentic and surprising sounds out of every one of these “crude” folk instruments, taught me (unsuccessfully) how they are played, and also the names and origins of those I wasn’t sure of. But I think my favorite moment was when he stuck his head in the Knutsen section and let loose with some of his trademark 4-octave vocal ululations – setting off the most outrageous sympathetic vibrations you can imagine (along with the entire neighborhood contingent of dogs…OK, slight exaggeration). A vastly entertaining and interesting musical whirlwind of an evening.
Having not yet heard a Weissenborn that impressed him, Abaji did enjoy my latest 5” deep Knutsen teardrop
A harp mandolin with sub-basses was a new discovery
Like the rest of us, he was enthralled with the Carruth harp guitar (and like all of us, couldn’t figure out how to make that bass section work!)
As I said, he gave me a demonstration on each of my folk flutes and reeds, starting with the Armenian duduk.
Fabrice is a music business partner and close friend of Abaji, though, as it happens, not a musician.
I was curious how Abaji manages to pull off a solo show with his multitude of instruments. Here’s how.
Over dinner, Fabrice further shared his thoughts on the volatile business side of things (“Clouding” is really going to turn our world upside down…), and Abaji shared stories of personal connections with audiences all over the world, from Mexico to China. Through Ben, he’s been kept in the loop about harp guitar players and builders; he helped John Doan with appearances on one occasion and is familiar with fellow “music ambassador” Jason Carter’s work (though yet to cross paths).
The visit over, I’m again struck by the inconceivable vastness and diversity of the world, while at the same time how small and connected it can be (musically, if not politically).
We expect we will be seeing our new friends again – and hopefully, between Ben and me, it can’t be long before we see Abaji playing a real harp guitar…
(with yet another wink and a hug)