On may 15th of 2017 I visited Harlem. My destination, a five floor walk up on Lenox Avenue, the home of an ambient musician who goes by Laraaji. I had earlier sent a text message to inform him I was on the way but never received a reply. I called him upon my arrival and he answered as I was leaving him a message. “He uses a landline telephone? Awesome” I thought to myself. After climbing five flights of heavily coated red stairs I was looking for his door number, not seeing it, I gambled and walked towards the only door that had its number replaced by a third eye symbol. Entering Laraaji’s apartment for the first time was a grand experience. Orange was everywhere, his wardrobe (orange) hanging on the walls that led to his bedroom. Piles of objects lined every room but were concealed by orange tapestry. Navigating from room to room is like walking a pathway in 2 feet of orange snow. Instruments were scattered about but obviously well cared for.
(Notice landline telephone? Even the paper sleeves on his cdr’s are orange 🙂
We agreed to eat a meal before working. We walked through his neighborhood talking casually until Laraaji abruptly stopped and offered a keen observation, “I think that I am following you and you are following me.” Our destination now behind us and on the other side of Lenox Avenue, we changed direction passing many sidewalk vendors along the way. Laraaji paid close attention to the clothing vendors and mentioned, “Sometimes they slip up and have something I like.” He tried a few hats, the ones closest to sun colors.
At lunch we discussed the color orange. I was eager to learn the significance it held for him. While eating his vegetarian portion he revealed that orange is a color he was naturally drawn to at a certain point in his life, but did not exclusively wear it. It wasn’t until he visited a now enlighten mentor of his in upstate New York that he decided to wear only orange and the occasional hint of other sun colors. His mentor explained to him that orange was a color that he should embrace and wear fully, that he was at a critical moment in his spiritual journey and orange will suit him as he progresses. I might add that upon mentioning orange numerous times he would playfully retort “What orange?” This banter is an important part of Laraaji. He is very humble and even playful, not portraying any pretense.
Other things mentioned. He went to music school in Washington, D.C. noting it was a party school. He also mentioned to the owner of the restaurant he was thankful for the ramen offering in the past and wished it would return.
(Walking and talking on Lennox Avenue)
Climbing up to his apartment we stopped around the 3rd floor and he asked me if I could repeat the phrase “imaslipandbumpmybooty” At first I thought it was one long word in another language. He explained that he heard the phrase at a nearby store when trying to find a place to stow his wet umbrella. He found the phrase appealing because it is perhaps not one you might hear visiting a store in SOHO. We re-entered his apartment and I requested a portrait in his restroom because of its radiant orange hand towels, body towels, and orange led lights. There was an orange glow that filled the room casting a monochromatic hue over his face. We moved to the front living room facing Lenox Avenue where Laraaji had his zither on a stand and he proceeded to improvise slapping the strings with a metal kit brush drummers usually use. The improvisations were beautiful and I felt lucky to be in this moment. Later I realized those improvisations were being played on an untuned instrument and I would never have noticed.
(Playing zither in front room and orange bathroom)
I was there to photograph Laraaji wearing some garments made by s.k. manor hill and Engineered Garments. When I initially asked him to do the shoot he requested the clothing be colors of the sun, orange in particular. Unable to provide orange clothing I asked if there were any exceptions that could be made. White, being the exception I brought all white looks. He loved the clothing, explaining, “If these were in orange you would not be leaving with them”
Photographing him while playing his instrument was amazing, but there must have been a spatial restriction because it wasn’t until we moved to the roof that he begun doing tai chi accompanied by a series of expressive facial gestures. This is something a photographer cannot coordinate.
(Laraaji wearing s.k. manor hill Oba Shirt and Engineered Garments Bedford Jacket and Post Willy Pants)
Laraaji’s uninhibited demeanor reveals a little more of his story. Perhaps it comes from busking in the streets New York City? Perhaps he is at a point spiritually that allows this open and confident way of being? Inevitably it is a concoction of many things. To learn more about Laraaji I would encourage you to listen to his music “Ambient 3: Day of Radiance” being one of my favorite albums in his catalogue.
To see a video of Laraaji imporvising on the zither please visit…