Thomas Abban is relatively unknown, but he won’t be for long.
The 21-year-old local artist has tantalizing guitar skills and an echoey falsetto. His debut album A Sheik’s Legacy was released this summer and he’s played to a loyal fan base at smaller venues around town since. In music videos and on social media, Abban sticks to a black-and-white aesthetic; symbols occasionally substitute for letters. He infuses his impassioned performances with visual drama by wearing a white mask with black slashes beneath the right eye. When maskless, he draws the slashes on his skin.
We spoke to Abban ahead of his show at the Aster Café on Friday.
City Pages: How have your Welsh and Ghanaian cultural backgrounds informed your music?
Thomas Abban: Wales is a land of poets and ancient civilizations. That’s interesting to me. Also, the African culture has a lot of rich music and ancient culture. That’s what I get most from both of them -– that connection to ancient things.
CP: You call yourself a “divisionary” artist. What does that mean?
TA: My booker called me that so that wasn’t me. I think he means that I have vision and that maybe it divides people or something like that.
CP: You’ve probably heard your music compared to Prince and Jimi Hendrix. Did either of those musicians influence you as you developed your style?
TA: No. I hate Prince.
CP: Really? Say more.
TA: I don’t hate him. I’ve just never been a fan of the music. And Hendrix, I don’t think that really comes through.
CP: Sometimes you wear a mask onstage or in your music videos. What is that about?
TA: It’s sort of to do with that African and ancient culture thing. You can connect with a different part of yourself when you wear a mask. You can do things that your naked face can’t.
CP: Is it a tattoo or is it eye makeup that you wear under right eye?
TA: One day it will be a tattoo. Probably any day now it will be a tattoo.
CP: Does it have a meaning?
TA: It’s just another mask.
CP: All your media –- Instagram, music videos –- is in black-and-white. Why?
TA: That’s just kind of the way I see the world at the moment –- very black and white. I’m hoping that changes, but that’s just sort of why.
CP: Is that a pessimistic view?
TA: No. I think it’s just I see the world very strongly. I see the world in terms of opposites.
CP: On your website you have something called an “imaginarium.” What is that?
TA: I don’t know where I heard that phrase. I’m not even sure it’s a real word, but “imaginarium” is like a holding place in your mind. It’s an area where I can write down what’s going on up there.
CP: It’s like a blog but it seems more poetic than that.
TA: Yeah, I guess you could say that.
CP: Where did the title A Sheik’s Legacy come from?
TA: I’m not sure where it came from. It just popped into my head. It just seemed to fit the whole theme and what I thought the album was about.
CP: What unites the songs on the album in your mind?
TA: I think what links them is just the way they sort of take you on a journey. It’s like you travel with the songs. The songs might be different in dynamics and themes but to me, they all segue together nicely.
CP: How has building a fan base on the Twin Cities music scene been going for you?
TA: The response has been pretty good. It’s just getting better each time.
CP: Was it at all difficult to break into the scene or meet people?
TA: Not once I started trying to do those things. Once I started hitting the scene and started really focusing on getting things where I needed them to be, it sorted of opened up to me.
CP: Do you have a day job or is music your full-time job?
TA: Music is my day and night job.
CP: You make a living off that?
TA: Yeah, that’s the only living I want to make –- whatever I can get with music.
Where: Aster Café
When: 9 p.m. Fri. Sept. 29
Tickets: $7; more info here