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Banjos and Ouds During a Lyft Ride

Posted by neilends on Friday, December 21, 2018

I was in Berkeley, California last week to see Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn in concert. My wife and daughter were traveling to California (we live in Arizona) to visit friends anyway, so I decided to go in the same direction but catch these two banjoists live, for the first time in my life. I brought my banjo with me. The concert was fantastic. I stood in line for an hour to get in, which landed me a front row seat directly in front of Mr. Fleck. 

The next day was a banjo-playing Q&A session that Bela and Abigail offered for free to all ticketholders. This was my opportunity to try and get them to autograph my banjo, so I took it with me and called a Lyft from my hotel. As I climbed into the car with my banjo case, the driver asked me with his heavy Arabic-accented English what the instrument was. He didn't seem to know what a banjo was, so I told him that it's this amazing instrument that is deeply intertwined with American culture and American history in many different ways. He began asking me a lot of questions, so deeper and deeper we went into whatever knowledge base I have about the banjo. He seemed quite fascinated. Then, he handed me his iPad--which was plugged in to the audio of his car--and asked me to find a video of Bela Fleck playing. So I did. He listened with full concentration to two separate tunes that I selected. I was surprised by his interest level. Banjos seem to fascinate everyone who sees or hears them, but his curiosity was higher than normal. 

When I told him how the banjo actually has a multiracial history, he seemed especially interested. Is that history really acknowledged, he asked me? I told him it certainly seemed to be, in my observation. I offered him the theory that music is transcending--it transcends tribalism, and race, and history--and any American banjo lover today is therefore going to be spiritually connected with the African slave banjo lover of circa 1799. He told me that he loves music too so this made complete sense to him. 

As we continued this conversation, he asked me if I knew anything about ouds. I didn't. Ouds are plucked string instruments widely used throughout the Arab world, including his native country of Yemen. He pulled over for a second and brought up a video for me to listen to. The video was a very talented man playing an oud to the tune of a song by Adele. I loved it. It had millions of views so he was apparently a YouTube star. We talked about this instrument for a while. I told him that he should try learning a musical instrument one day. He agreed with me but said it felt like he never had time, with trying to make a living and taking care of his wife and young child. We bonded on that point: I failed to play any music between the ages of 16 and 46, because life got in the way. But, I pointed out, it's not as hard as you think. Just start.

Onward our conversastion went. And then, I commented that the man playing in the video was very good, to which the driver quietly told me: "He's my cousin."

Say what again?

The YouTube star who has millions of views is a Yemeni immigrant who lives in New York City, and he's the cousin of my freaking driver. "Dude!" I told him. "It's in your blood then--pick up an oud or whatever you need to!" He laughed and said yeah I was right, he should do that soon. I hope he follows up. Meanwhile, here's his amazing cousin, Ahmed Alshaiba:

Adele's "Hello" on an Oud



5 comments on “Banjos and Ouds During a Lyft Ride”

Ciao Says:
Thursday, December 27, 2018 @2:26:07 PM

Great story Neil. There is an annual 4 day folk festival in Canberra (we get in for free as my wife and I staff a bicycle minding facility for four hours a day). I organise out shift around Joseph Tawadros's appearance. He's a Coptic Egyptian-born oud player based in Sydney. Ouds are a beautiful sounding instrument - he described it as a fretless bass lute.
This a little different to his usual fare
PS I came here via your "changing strings" question. I like the Deering instructional video.

neilends Says:
Thursday, December 27, 2018 @7:47:57 PM

Pretty cool, Chris. And thanks for the tip. Deering has very good videos—and I’m definitely a Deering fan (own two of them).

mike gregory Says:
Thursday, December 27, 2018 @8:53:19 PM

I have an Oud.
Look up
on Youtube

neilends Says:
Thursday, December 27, 2018 @9:28:49 PM

mike gregory That’s a pretty instrument you got!

Banjosephus Says:
Thursday, December 27, 2018 @10:18:24 PM

Oud a thunkit? Mike's an Oud Dude.

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