In the wake of the first Gulf War, Kurdistan-Iraq was a region devastated by conflict and suffering under twin trade embargoes imposed by the UN on Iraq, and by Saddam Hussein on the Kurds. It was in this environment that the cellist and composer Khabat Abas learnt to play her instrument. While performing with various ensembles, including the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, Khabat adapted her instrument and performance practice to her war-torn environment, where she did not have access to supplies to fix strings or make repairs. Using knotted strings and improvised materials, she fashioned instruments, sounds and ways of playing that emerged from and reflected the realities of life in a warzone.

In her compositional and improvisatory practice, Khabat has used these experiences to deconstruct the ‘perfect’ cello of Western classical tradition. Her ‘skin’ cello, for example, uses stretched animal skin in place of the usual spruce top to create an instrument that is a hybrid of the classical cello and the Middle Eastern percussion instrument known as a daf. The ‘9-B7-343’ or ‘shell’ cello is cut and welded from the metal casing of an ISIS artillery shell (manufactured in the USA), and takes its name from the serial number printed on the shell itself. In her performances on these and other instruments of her own invention, Khabat explores new ways of playing and new physical relationships with the instrument, as well the cultural properties of the objects and materials themselves. Recently, she has extended her adaptations of the cello into digital and algorithmic sound processing.

Khabat Abas studied at the Iraq Institute of Fine Art and Music (Music Diploma, 2000), the Ljungskile College of Music, Sweden (2009), Gothenburg University (2017) and Goldsmiths College, University of London (2018). She has taken part in workshops in cello performance and improvisation with Yo-Yo Ma, Eddie Prévost, Peter Schoening and others. She has performed as a soloist and in ensembles in London, Berlin, Gothenburg, Malmö and Kurdistan, and with orchestras in Slemani (Kurdistan) and Gothenburg.