Saturday, April 02, 2011

Weekend Musical Interlude

Well, I was lamenting just yesterday that I'd hardly seen any music recently... but I have seen some.

One of the highlights was the visit to my 'local', Jianghu, last Sunday (Sunday?!) of Abaji, an affable Lebanese-born Armenian who's one of the big stars of 'World Music' - brought to us as part of this year's ambitious Jue Festival - supported by a number of fine Chinese musicians, including the superb experimental folk artist Song Yuzhe (a sometime collaborator with Xiao He).

Now, I confess I was not completely won over by Abaji.  He can speak Arabic, French, English, and two or three other languages fluently, he plays dozens of different instruments, and he's an extremely engaging personality; he jammed happily with the Chinese musicians; and he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand - with his amiably bumbling banter, and bits of call-and-response shtick where he got people to repeat phrases he was singing or playing on one of his flutes. Certainly lots to like about him.

The show was great entertainment, but.... musically, I was just a little less than bowled over.  His voice, while quite pleasant, is nothing very spectacular; and although he can, apparently, sing in all five or more of the languages he has mastered, he was mostly evoking the tremulous quality of Arab music with wordless vocals - and I found this got to be a bit samey after a while; I wanted to hear more lyrics, even if I wasn't going to be able to understand them.  Moreover, although he's obviously a very capable and innovative musician, there wasn't really anything all that intricate about what he was playing for us - I found myself a few times getting a bit nostalgic for the great days of the now-defunct Panjir's extended residencies at Jiangjinjiu, where we'd be treated to some truly dazzling virtuoso improvisations on Central Asian Islamic folk tunes. Abaji's music, I found, was pretty enough.... but it didn't take off and fly.

However, he's definitely well worth seeing - if you find he's playing anywhere near you. This is one of the most interesting bits I could find of him on YouTube - jamming on a hybrid harp-guitar in a friend's music shop.  

This clip of him playing bottleneck blues guitar (and an Asian flute) is great fun too.

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