By Garen Freed, Staff Writer
Open any Guitar Magazine, read any metal/rock blog or walk in to any mainstream music store and what will you find? Guitarist Tosin Abasi’s footprint.
The African-American guitarist has taken the music industry by storm in the last five years. As the founding member and guitarist of the three-piece progressive/instrumental metal band Animals as Leaders, Abasi has proved himself to be guitar virtuoso. With Animals as Leaders, he has toured the world several times over and sold thousands of records.
However, as a fan and a musician, I was curious to find out if Abasi had any trouble as an African-American musician in gaining and holding on to popularity in the metal/rock community. An overwhelming majority of guitarists in the metal/rock music scene are caucasian or of European descent. It’s an unavoidable fact. With that said, I was curious to know if there were any struggles Abasi had to go through as a musician because of his race.
I caught up with Abasi at a recent Animals as Leaders concert in Orlando to discuss the topic of being an African American in the realm of metal music. Interestingly enough, I was told that “being an African-American musician probably helped my popularity as a musician.”
Abasi explained that being an African-American musician in the metal world is intriguing to most fans and was definitely a selling point in gaining some listeners.
Since his parents are originally from Kenya, I wondered if Abasi uses any Kenyan influences in his music. However, I was both shocked and delighted to hear that some of his influences were some of my own favorite bands.
“Stephan Carpenter [Deftones guitarist] had a big influence on me with lower range tunings,” Abasi said. “Also [Jazz guitarist] Alan Holdsworth has really been a big role model in regards to Jazz.”
In and out of numerous metal projects as a teen, Abasi grew to love metal not only for its attitude, but for the technical guitar work that bands like Death and Pantera used. Abasi took his love of playing and performing to the Atlanta Institute of Music, where he sharpened his skills as a guitar virtuoso.
Abasi is well-known for his 8-string guitar playing. With the 8 string, Abasi developed his own method of string slapping and sweep picking that is unique to his playing.
Of course, the color of a musician does not affect the sound or quality of music, but it is still interesting to see an emergence of African-American guitarists in a genre previously dominated by white musicians.