Hani Naser, 1950-2020

By Elise Mallove
By Elise Mallove

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Hani Naser, 1950-2020
The magnificent soul known as Hani Naser left his mortal coil peacefully in the early morning hours of 16 November. Hani was known for his big, beautiful heart and that heart could not bear the pain of several family members, all women and children, who were senselessly and mercilessly shot and killed by a madman in Henderson, NV, just weeks earlier. A master musician, Hani was known for his skill as both a world-class percussionist/rhythmist as well as for his moving and passionate oud playing. He was self-taught, having picked up his first oud at age four, immediately displaying some serious chops. His percussion playing was also innate, instinctive and complex.  Hani formed a duo with the brilliant string god, David Lindley, and brought David’s quirky compositions to life with his superb rhythms and vast array of hand drums.  The list of artists he has performed with is literally a collection of the best bands and musicians in the world and encompasses rock, jazz, world, flamenco, Middle Eastern, gospel, jamgrass, Hawaiian, and just about any genre of music you can imagine. Hani lived and breathed music, often awakening in the middle of the night to work on a new tune that came to him in a dream. If he didn’t have an instrument in his hands you could often observe his fingers moving as he worked out new songs in his head. For many years, his neighbors on Greenleaf were enchanted daily by the stirring sounds of his magical oud playing.  Indeed, the home he shared there with his longtime love, Elise Mallove, was constantly filled with incredible musicians, dancers, food, and dogs, lots of happy dogs. Hani loved Topanga and he loved to include his talented Topanga friends (Gayle Ellett, Pete Hillman, Amit Gilad, Jeff Smith, Joee Corso, Jaime Scher) in many of his gigs and was a great teacher and mentor to all. He also performed with Topanga’s own Fred Tackett on many occasions. Hani cut an imposing figure, with his strong handsome face and long luxurious curls, his kind, smiling eyes and amazing bear hugs, but it was his beautiful spirit that drew people to him. Strangers were constantly coming up to him, pulled in by some mysterious force and often compelled to give him special talismans and gifts. He was often sought out for his deep wisdom and counsel and he loved nothing better than a spirited debate and some good smoke. There is no doubt that he is now happily engaged once again in endless daily discussions with his great friend, Dave Lichten, whom he has missed terribly these past five years. Hani was a very loyal friend who always supported his fellow musicians.  Hani bin Nassar Naser was born in his family’s ancestral Orthodox Christian village of Ermameen, Jordan, on March 2, 1950, and came to the United States with his family when he was only eight months old. Not many people know that he was a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, a lawyer and businessman. He served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for a wonderful non-profit youth music school in Santa Barbara called the Star Jasmine Music Foundation (jamsmusic.org), and was deeply involved in another extraordinary organization, The Rhythmic Arts Project (traplearning.org), which successfully uses rhythm and drumming to radically transform the developmentally disabled. He was also a long-time active member of the Topanga Peace Alliance. Extremely close to his heart was the Arab/Israeli conflict and he participated in many concerts, ceremonies, and workshops designed to foster peace and understanding. He always believed that given the chance, he could resolve the situation!  He spent several years working as a mediator for the City of Los Angeles, successfully mediating many thorny neighborhood disputes and receiving an award from the City for his efforts. Hani is survived by four sisters, one brother, two sons, two daughters, and at least a million cousins.  When it is safe to gather again, a memorial celebration worthy of his greatness will be planned. There is nothing Hani loved more than a great party and he was always the heart and soul of any gathering. Topanga will never be the same without him.

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