Desert acoustics: Abaji pays tribute to Greg Brown
Review by Doug Heselgrave
Abaji, the one man band from the Lebanese desert has delivered one of the year’s most immediate and off the cuff albums with the release of his fifth CD, Origine Orients. Not only does Abaji play every instrument on this dazzling acoustic album – he plays them all in real time. In other words, what you hear when you listen to Origine Orients is a single take, completely live recording, delivered without pauses to pick up a new instrument or lay down an overdub. That would be an accomplishment in itself if Abaji was content with simply accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar, but he often does far more than that. On some tracks, he switches from guitar to bouzouki to flute while maintaining the backbeat by stomping his feet and ringing bells. Still, this is not music that exists only to show off Abaji’s virtuosity; instead it is a breathless travelogue of desert sounds and songs.
The swirling exotic soundscapes that Abaji creates are immensely appealing and accessible. At times, his acoustic guitar work sounds like that of the great French jazz artist, Pierre Bensusan and his voice has often been compared favorably with Greg Brown, the American folk singer who Abaji cites as a major influence. Singing in five languages, Abaji’s thrown a very wide net this time out, hoping that people throughout the world will have a chance to share in his music. The effect for those not proficient in all of the languages he sings in is that the vocals become another texture in the song. The music carries the show here, and it’s in no way essential to understand what Abaji’s singing about.
The album is best experienced as a continuous whole – just as Abaji recorded it – but those wanting to sample a track before committing themselves should check out ‘Min Jouwwa’, a gorgeous expansive tune that evokes a similar desert groove as Mali’s Tinawaren. Abaji is an exciting artist, and Origine Orients is the perfect introduction to his admirable body of work.
This article also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com