We’ve all seen him around – playing joyful tunes on his guitar and crooning soulful lyrics at local events. His style is crowd-friendly, accompanying original work with whimsical covers he re-writes to make more relatable. Bursting with a sound that exudes reggae influence melded with the pop-blues genre a la the early years of The Beatles, it isn’t hard to feel good by Amin’s musical makes – as he came to show us when he paraded into our offices with fedora on head and guitar at back.
But Amin “Mr. Fari” Abal is so much more than an entertainer. When this Kuwaiti Puerto Rican singer/songwriter isn’t self-producing his work and creating original pieces, he’s involved in many projects to better his craft, as well as the craft of others and the general reputation of music in the region.
Growing up surrounded by artists, whether his father, mother, or two sisters, it’s almost as though art were built into his DNA. Of the many projects Amin is involved with, his father’s jewelry line, Jewelry by Fareed Abdal, is one where he gets the chance to explore creativity beyond the realms of music. Through overseeing the implementation of his designs, from renderings to finished pieces with local jewelers around Kuwait, Amin is able to tap into his business background to find ways to better bridge the gap between art and running a business. “The nice thing about [working with jewelry] is that it pushes me to always evaluate art or evaluate the way things are done.”
While a life in the arts seemed inevitable, from a very young age it was evident that Amin’s interest leaned more towards the art of music performance than that of the visual arts. After completing a degree in Business Administration from Puerto Rico, Amin packed his bags and head for the land of all things art to pursue his passion for music at the Musicians Institute of Los Angeles. “I learned a lot in LA. I worked with one of Ricky Martin’s top songwriters, as well as the producers of Kings of Leon and Norah Jones.” Behind the happy, sunny, all things glitz of LA, however, is a much darker, harsher reality – the inner cogs, if you will – that, much like the back-stage area of a show, takes stamina to endure. While his days in LA taught him a lot about not only the music industry, but himself as an artist, none of those experiences could prepare him for the stark difference that is, living life as a musician in Kuwait.
“Before moving back to Kuwait, I never wanted to do covers,” he chuckled as he settled deeper into the plush couch at our headquarters. “I guess it’s because I grew up in a household that was constantly creating original art, so I thought ‘why should I copy anybody’s music?’ but people love covers and so I found a way to make them my own.” One of Amin’s notable covers, as you may have heard him play more recently, is his own rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, (you can also download it off of his bandcamp account – details at the bottom of this article). With lines like, “Imagine there’s no wasta, no mandoob or m’wathafeen, nothing to pay or bribe for, no shady in between,” he brings it home and creates a kinship with his audience by addressing current events in Kuwait and the region. With lyrics like, “imagine no passports,” he tackles a topic close to many people’s hearts, whether the Palestinian situation, or the ongoing non-status of Bedoon in Kuwait, it strikes a chord with the listeners. “Originally, Lennon’s song was written to address issues people were feeling at that time – which made the song more relatable. I feel that expressing issues and current events through song makes it more lighthearted yet thought-provoking,” he explains, “and of course, memorable. If you’re listening to someone playing a cover while you’re having brunch, you don’t want to say ‘oh, I heard a song by (insert mainstream artist here) today,’ you’re going to be more interested to talk about the take on said mainstream song that a local artist ‘remixed’ and made their own.”
Nonetheless, with great songwriting, performance and even “remixing”, comes a lot of challenges that even Amin’s creative brilliance can’t avoid. “It’s challenging to go into unchartered waters – working on music that is so specific, especially when you don’t have mentorship. If you’re going to perform something multilingual or step into another culture, it could totally backfire. You just have to guess and then hope and pray that you’re guessing correctly.” Knowing your audience is another way to overcome challenges in performing, because as we are all aware, there’s a fine line between being a performer who engages his audience and being that guy at the party who won’t put down their guitar and forces a jam session in the room. “You have to think like a DJ: what would the audience want? What kind of vibe does the situation have? Plan in advance, but know that it might not always execute the way you’d hoped: Go with what the moment brings you.” And don’t forget the personality! According to Amin, what you bring to the table as a performer is the most important thing “Wittiness and sharpness is something a lot of artists need to understand.”
This is something that, as an artist, Amin, definitely understands. His musical demeanor has rendered him reputable in Kuwait’s oftentimes tumultuous hub of talent. You can’t swing a bat without hearing songs of praise about the musician’s talent and overall vibes. So much so, that the singer/songwriter is giving back to the community through his new venture, Talent Shop – a “Talent Brokerage” firm, if you will – helping local talents in finding gigs, booking them for events, and visa versa, ensuring that their payment is fair, and that their talent is recognized.
Musicians are still very much misunderstood as artists in our region, with most people dubbing them hobbyists rather than professionals. A lot goes into the process of creating an album; there’s a whole world back there “behind the scenes” and seeing that there was a need for people to understand that process to better appreciate their work, Amin started working on putting together a ‘Zine documenting the making of his third electronic production album (EP) Plastic Desert Roots. “The ‘Zine shows what it takes to make an album. It shows the complexity in the process – the messiness and the memories of it all. It’s like a scrapbook of sorts, highlighting the experience and the journey. I want to show that music is a lifestyle and that ‘behind the scenes’ is an everyday occurrence. Musicians here all hang out with each other and support each other and I think that’s very important to share.”
It’s a hard-knock life, being a musician in Kuwait, and in the region – especially when you’re part of the New Wave generation coming in and revolutionizing the industry, but to Amin, the ride is well worth it, and the passionate need to keep peacefully proving their point – he hopes that with his projects and contributions to the local industry, said points will be heard.
Music is so much more than a listening experience, something Amin feels is often overlooked. Through working on projects with the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters (NCCAL), he hopes to shed light on how music has the ability to not only bridge the gap between cultures that often seem so far removed from one another, but to highlight that much of what held cultures, entire societies and even ethnicities together was the way in which they expressed their stories, wrote their histories through music.
Before treating us to a private mini-gig, Amin leaves us with pearl of wisdom:
“For me, being in Kuwait sharing music started to become more of an important thing because it’s something that is seen so negatively in our past (culture) it’s important for me to start saying you can be a smart person, a business oriented person and sing at the same time. There are these stereotypes that you’re crazy because you sing or you’re a low class person because you sing. I don’t believe I’m any of those two. I don’t believe I’m shoved into music – it’s not my only way out. I choose to do this and be in a community that shares this passion. It’s needed more here than other places. Music needs to be heard more.”
Well said and well sung, Amin. We hear you.
Check out Amin’s music at www.mrfari.bandcamp.com. Are you an artist interested in contacting him about a booking? Follow him on Instagram @xxmrfarixx and email him at [email protected]. Also, look out for Amin’s music column on Mark’s 248am to get the latest scoop on local music!
Photography by Yousef Al Nasser.