Famed for his work on over four thousand recording sessions, for playing with the Christian jazz team Koinonia and for his own occasional albums, ABRAHAM LABORIEL is thought by many to be the world's greatest living bass player. Mike Rimmer met the maestro.
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Over the years, God has shaped Abe's life so that he now has some deep insights into the mixing of spirituality and musicianship. "I think it's important," he confesses, "for the enemy to be exposed because the enemy was created to be the master worshipper in Heaven and he is very upset that his place has been taken by mere humans and so he is trying to steal the gift of music from the Lord. As soon as the Lord finds a heart which is willing to recognise that the gift of music comes from him, we are no longer worshipping the gift but the giver of the gift."
I wonder whether Abraham is aware how easily it is for the gift of music to become idolatrous? "I once heard a preacher teach that just because the Lord had called David to minister to Saul with music did not mean that David had been called to have a music ministry." Abe breaks off to laugh heartily and then continues, "That really blew my mind! The Lord gave David the gift of music but David did not say, 'I think I'd better go on the road and start my music ministry.' What she was saying was the gift of music comes from the Lord but being called to have a music ministry is a whole other thing. The people who have a genuine calling are the people whose hearts are at all times at the service of the will of God and not spending every waking hour trying to figure out how to become more famous or powerful."
I ask Abe to identify his own calling. "I have the idea," he replies, "of using music as a vehicle to enter and dwell in the presence of the Lord. The Lord inhabits the praises of his people. Even in circumstances that are not essentially holy, there is an experience of the gift of the Lord. Every time I play music, it is an opportunity for me to enter into the presence of the Lord, to minister to him and worship him and have an affect and impact on the lives of others around me which makes them question, 'What's with that man? What's the reason for his joy - it doesn't make sense.' Eventually they feel attracted and they ask me. That brings me joy! I tell them I love music, I know music comes from Jesus and it gives me an opportunity to witness to people."
Considering the number of sessions he plays and the variety of artists he has played with outside of the Christian sphere, I ask him to tell me some more of what he does in sessions. "I have become very bold," he responds. "I take my Bible out, I put it on the music stand and every time there is a break I start reading or people start sharing with me some of the deep problems they're going through. I say, 'I don't know if you're a Christian or if you're in favour of that but this problem that you're sharing I'd like to take the opportunity to pray for you about it because I don't know any other way of dealing with serious problems other than to invite Jesus to get involved in helping us to sort it out.' I feel that it is one of my callings to remind people that if not now, they will some time come to the end of their own rope and I want them to remember that even then there is hope in asking Jesus to reveal himself to them and he will."
Laboriel has spent a lifetime playing on other people's projects and only occasionally ventures out with his own albums. His most recent was a joint effort with his longtime collaborator Justo Almario. Why does he record solo projects so infrequently? "My family is my number one priority. Until I feel I am in the place where my taking time for other things is not going to affect them adversely, I don't consider doing anything else except what the Lord wants me to do to take care of them. I love doing solo projects but I live doing them in a way that is not detrimental to anyone else that I love."
Last year's album with Justo enabled Laboriel to work with his family. His son Abe Jnr played drums on the project and it could be said that even time was on Laboriel's side. He got the go ahead from the record company to make an album on a Thursday evening and he was in the studio the following Thursday to record. Due to time limitations for the musicians and the studio, the whole album was recorded in two days! Abe describes it as, "A miracle of miracles!" Not surprisingly, it has a spontaneous feel, included lots of prayer and Laboriel humbly sums up this magnificent album in a sentence - "The Church has never heard its hymns and songs played like that!" Again, the famous Laboriel chuckle kicks in.
Laboriel longs to move into new areas of ministry, particularly when it comes to spending time with fellow Christian musicians and worship leaders. Whether it is challenging church pastors to worship the Lord in new ways or praying with musicians, it's Abe's hope to be an encouragement. "Justo and I have a calling," he tells me, "to start visiting Christian musicians all over the world, just spending time praying with them, asking the Lord to show us what it is he wants for each of us and how we can learn to know his will."
Laboriel is one of those musicians whose life, music and faith are wonderfully intermingled and balanced. Disarmingly void of ego, it isn't difficult to see why God has raised him up as a musician's musician. As I say my farewells, he pauses to impart a word of encouragement, a thought close to his heart. "Keep on worshipping," he tells me. I will Abe!The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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