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Traveling To Portland With Assasi For Cameo Appearance With Joe Benjamin

Assasi project continues.

PORTLAND, Maine- So a few months ago, Zac — the rapper Assasi that I’m making a film about — was in NYC at a small concert at a bar. When the musicians took a break he walked up to the front man, introduced himself as a hip hop artist from Syria, and asked if he’d be interested in jamming. The singer initially put him off — who walks up to a performing musician and asks if they could jump up on stage too? — but then he felt like a douche. A few songs later he ran out into the crowd and invited Zac up on stage. Zac went up, freestyled, and had a good time.

Apparently, he also did pretty well, as this musician asked him to be on his next album. Zac said of course, wrote and recorded a verse, and on the record it went.

The muscian’s name was Joe Benjamin. I initially assumed that he was a rapper too — that would make sense — but I couldn’t have been more wrong:

How the f’ck do you rap to that? I have no idea … but Zac can do it.

Whereas in writing, where the storyteller is an inseparable part of the story, in documentary, the storyteller sits on the fringes of the story — showing the reality of the protagonist rather than being the protagonist, which means living parallel with someone else’s reality.

Anyway, Joe’s band just kicked off their summer tour with a stop in Portland, and they invited Zac down to perform the song that they did together. So Zac, his wife / manager, and I got all ready jumped into the car and drove two hours so Zac could sing for like … 30 seconds.

Why was this worth it?

Documentary is a strange kind of art. Whereas in writing, where the storyteller is an inseparable part of the story, in documentary, the storyteller sits on the fringes of the story — showing the reality of the protagonist rather than being the protagonist, which means living parallel with someone else’s reality.

When I write I am the main character — I am the one who drives the story. My first book was about traveling to China’s ghost cities — it was a book about my travels. My second book is about the New Silk Road, and is likewise a story about my reality traveling the routes.

When I first got into documentary I attempted to do it in the same way that I do my books. I aimed to do everything the same — the only caveat would be that I would do it all in front of a camera.

This didn’t work out as well as I would have liked.

So I began experimenting with other ways of telling the story, bestowing protagonist-ship upon other individuals and allowing them to tell their own stories. When doing this, my role becomes very different — the me in me vanishes and I become this weird outside entity, a voice from the side of the stage guiding the flow of action rather than creating it.

Documentary is humbling.

***
So we drove down to Portland. The show was at a place called Empire. It was a simple venue — a stage, a dance floor, a few high-hat tables, and a bar. Very straight forward, simple — perfect. The crowd was friendly. People looked at you and smiled. They were happy to be out with other people — very unlike Bangor, where their is this odd municipal insecurity complex that renders people vastly less than friendly. I looked at a girl wearing a Descendants t-shirt. She smiled at me and we talked about the Descendants. It was a simple interaction — one that I wouldn’t have made a note of in another country, but here it really indicated something.

I drank a can of wine. No joke — a can of wine. (Why not?)

Zac transformed into Assasi: eyeliner, fez, sash. He looked at me and told me he was nervous. Excited was probably the better word. This guy’s brain is wired weird. He needs to perform or he wilts up like a neglected little flower. He’s a pretty easy guy to film. I just sit back and turn the camera on and he does his thing. Every once in a while I call out a topic.

Joe Benjamin played through a few of his magnificently rainbow-y songs, and then invited Assasi up to the stage. Assasi did his Assasi thing for a minute or so.

Then we drove two hours home.

The documentary life.

Filed under: Documentaries, Maine

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3527 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Prague, Czech Republic

6 comments… add one

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  • julie May 11, 2019, 6:01 am

    Canned wine! Gotta have some. Suppose I have to wait ’till I’m back in the states though.

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    • Wade Shepard May 11, 2019, 7:42 pm

      I had no idea this existed! It wasn’t bad though — but I may just be saying this because it consisted of 1.5 servings for the price of one.

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  • Trevor May 12, 2019, 3:54 am

    Surely u gotta do a CAN OF WINE post then u can show us mere mortals what it looks like..??

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    • Wade Shepard May 13, 2019, 11:04 am

      It was pretty amazing, actually. For win that isn’t intended to be aged, there is no reason for it to be in a corked bottle. A screw off top or can is just as good. I will take some photos next time I get one.

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      • Trav May 13, 2019, 5:33 pm

        Amazing? Really?????????

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  • Trav May 13, 2019, 5:33 pm

    A can of wine? Man, what’s this world coming to!

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