With Rabih Abou Khalil in Taiwan

Touring with Rabih Abou Khalil was always an adventure. We met playing a concert in Athens with Glen Velez in 1991 (I was on a break from the Flecktones). I played more than a hundred concerts with him from 1993 to 1997 (and a few after that), and recorded 2 cd’s. We performed mostly in Europe, but also in more exotic places like Syria, Jordan, Macedonia, and Taiwan. I played the Taiwan Jazz Festival in 1994, one of my first gigs with Rabih. It was part of a ’round- the- world- in- ten-days- tour, which I only realized as I was doing it. Montreal, Den Haag (North Sea Festival, near Amsterdam), Taiwan, L.A. (where I had a recording session), and home to Chicago.

Rabih had sent a mountain of faxes back and forth to the head organizer, a woman whom I will call Emily Shen. One of the things she insisted on toward the end was that we attend a press conference 3 days before our concert. In spite of Rabih’s strong protests, we had to leave Amsterdam immediately after our gig and fly to Taipei through Hong Kong. Exhausted, we were hustled to the press conference without even checking into our hotel. After we grabbed a few bites of leftover hors d’ouvres, we sat down and waited, all sweaty and hungry. Rabih, ever the Lebanese gentleman, introduced himself to Emily Shen and gave her a present. She seemed totally unimpressed, unfriendly and brusque. He was surprised and a little offended to receive such a cold reception after all of the faxing and phoning and travelling.

The press conference consisted of “Mr. Rabih Abou Khalil, would you please introduce the members of your band.” It was like a roll call. We each stood up when our name was called. That was it. Needless to say, we were not happy. You’d think that we would be allowed to go to the hotel, but NO, another surprise! The real reason they wanted us there three days early- we had to perform a Free outdoor concert in Chiang Kai Shek Park. It was 95 degrees and just about as humid. Hurry hurry to the park! Right away! Of course, we waited for several hours outdoors in the sticky heat, and then played. Although there were considerable language problems between us and the sound man, it went pretty well.

Finally, they took us to the hotel. As soon as we could shower and change, the 4 of us went to a restaurant in the hotel with an all- you- can -eat buffet. We ordered, the first two dishes came, and they were delicious. We waited and waited for the rest to come, then finally called the waiter over and asked where the rest of the food was. We were told that the cook had gone home. (It was hours before the listed closing time). By this time, we had all been up for more than 24 hours. Rabih, who had somehow stayed calm during everything, went ballistic. He screamed at the manager, who then told him that the real reason why the cook went home was that we had ordered things that he didn’t think Europeans would like. The fact that we were two Arabs, an Indian, and an American didn’t alter his opinion.

For the next 3 days, nobody from the festival ever called us or came to show us around. We found things to do, rehearsed, saw the city, but couldn’t figure out the neglect. And at the concert, there was no food at all for us, though we had to be there for soundcheck, and there were no restaurants anywhere nearby. We ended up eating out of vending machines. In spite of it, we played very well for 1,000- 2,000 people, got a great response, and were taken out to a delicious dinner afterwards by a journalist who was ashamed of the way we had been treated and wanted to show us some true Taiwanese hospitality.

I got the answer to the mystery of our bad treatment on my way to airport the next morning. I shared a cab with an American musician who said to me “It’s too bad Emily Shen couldn’t have been here- she was so nice”.

“What do you mean- who was in charge?” I asked.

“Oh, that was Emily Shan. Emily Shen had to go back to the US where she is a graduate student, and they replaced her at the last minute with Emily Shan, who didn’t know what she was doing.”

That explained a few things. I told this to Rabih later, and he said that he noticed the spelling of the name had changed on the last faxes, but that there were so many other misspellings in the faxes that he never imagined that he was dealing with a different person toward the end.

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