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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Abbo Abbondandolo – from a solo artist to the lead vocalist of rock group DaVinci Park

Meet Abbo, the acoustic troubadour and grassroots music activist who is stepping out as the frontman of bestselling band DaVinci Park.
Abbo Abbondandolo, the lead vocalist of rock band DaVinci Park, moved to Dubai five years ago. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Abbo Abbondandolo, the lead vocalist of rock band DaVinci Park, moved to Dubai five years ago. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Abbo Abbondandolo must have the most recognisable feet on the UAE music scene. The scraggly singer-songwriter is famous locally for his kooky trademark of wearing odd pairs of trainers – one foot red, one blue. A self-described “travelling musician”, the 43-year-old Briton’s mismatched footwear – and distinctly gravelly vocals – have been a regular fixture at acoustic showcases since he arrived in Dubai five years ago.

But there were never enough gigs, which is why Abbondandolo started his own. He currently runs four weekly open mics across Dubai, offering many upcoming musicians their first taste of the stage. Indie-folk trio Vandalye formed at one of Abbondandolo’s GoPlayTheWorld events last summer and launched their debut EP From the Beginning to a fully booked room at the same night a year later.

But while renowned as a troubadour in the classic solo-acoustic model, Abbondandolo is now stepping into the spotlight – and significantly upping the tempos – as lead singer of DaVinci Park.

The quintet performed their first gig in April, the same day they launched debut album Overlooking Florence, which promptly topped regional iTunes charts.

The group is an unlikely collision pairing Abbondandolo’s introspective, folky confessionals with razor-sharp instrumentation provided by backing group Kapow – an in-demand cover band and former residents at Dubai rock institution The Music Room where Abbondandolo worked as official photographer.

“Taking photos every week, I was looking around at all the bands in Dubai,” he says, “and I said, ‘if I could pick any band to play my music with – it’s them’.”

The final piece of the puzzle came in the form of Joshua F Williams – an LA-bred producer who has previously worked sessions with Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen – who currently helms Dubai’s InTheMix Studios.

After a chance meeting led to a late night “talking about the string arrangements of Jeff Buckley”, Williams was called on to produce.

At first, everyone was a hired hand. “I was paying the band as session musicians, thinking ‘I’d love them to be my band’,” says Abbondandolo.

After recording three songs, the players felt the same way. Williams was a convert, too – soon after, the newly dubbed DaVinci Park were signed by RecordPro Records, a new label co-run by the producer. Sessions took place at a remote ranch in the Abu Dhabi desert.

The album title, Overlooking Florence, wrote itself. Googling his new band name to check it was not already in use brought up a breathtaking image of Florence, as seen from a hillside lookout known as Da Vinci Park. The fact Abbondandolo’s wife is named after the same historic Italian city was a coincidence too strong to ignore.

An aircraft technician by trade, Abbondandolo did not pick up a guitar until he was 26. Some years later, he packed in the day job, and began an itinerant period forging a career as a musician – and “following a lady” (that’s Florence, now a mother of two) – through the United States, France, Australia and the Philippines, before arriving in Dubai in 2011.

It marks Abbondandolo’s third stint in the Emirates – he worked for the UAE’s Union Defence Force in the late 1990s, and lived with his family as a toddler in the 1970s, which might go a long way to explaining his ongoing commitment to the local scene.

Earlier this year, GoPlayTheWorld also spawned a compilation showcase EP – which displaced Adele to top the regional iTunes chart – and work is already underway for a follow-up with Williams again at the helm.

“I see Dubai as an opportunity,” says Abbondandolo. “In every other city I’ve played in, I’ve been trying to break into a scene that’s been there for decades. Here, we can look back in 10 years and say ‘we were part of building that’.”

rgarratt@thenational.ae