Monday, March 12, 2012

Islam and Jazz Tangled Roots: Ahmed Abdul Malik

The relationship between jazz music and Islam is one of the more seemingly improbable yet fascinating connections in contemporary global culture.  Both forms of human expression have their American roots in the pain of the enslavement of African people.  And though about a third of Africans transported to North America were Muslims, the open practice of the religion of Mohammad (PBUH) quickly died out.  But as scholars have pointed out, some intriguing echoes of Islam are embedded deep in American culture.

Two deserve mention. 

Azaan the Muslim call to prayer, probably the most evocative and beautiful piece of acappella music conceived by man, is the foundational musical structure of the blues.   And the blues, of course, are the foundation of jazz.

In the coastal areas of the state of Georgia the churches are all built facing Mecca.

Within the community of African American jazz musicians in the 1940s and 1950s the message of Islam found many receptive converts. One of the more fascinating figures was the bass and oud player Ahmed Abdul Malik. When asked, he consistently told people that he was Sudanese and had been born a Muslim. In most biographies or profiles about Malik this background is almost universally accepted.  However, one of the most authoritative scholars of African American history and the biographer of Thelonious Monk, with whom Malik played, Dr. Robin Kelley, has provided very compelling evidence to the contrary.  Malik’s parents were in fact, emigres from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and until 1948 the musician was known (and legally registered) as Jonathan Timm.

Malik (bass) playing with Monk (piano)

Whatever the circumstances of his conversion and motivation for spinning the Sudanese story, all agree that Malik took his new faith very seriously. In a subculture rife with alcohol and narcotic abuse Ahmed Abdul Malik neither smoked nor drank.  He was also one of the earliest musicians to attempt a serious infusion of Arabic and Middle Eastern musical scales and instruments into his jazz playing.  He mastered the oud which is played on several records, including tonight’s feature, Eastern Moods. He toured South America with the instrument and performed at music festivals in Morocco in the early 70s.  In the latter part of his life he taught jazz improvisation at New York University.

This record which comes via the wonderful blog Sun Ship is from 1963. Every track, including the standard, Summertime, has an oriental flavor and feel. The last three in particular are lovely compositions stripped of almost any Western/jazz elements.

            Track Listing:
           01. Summertime

02. Ancient Scene
03. Maghrebi
04. Sa-Ra-Ga'-Ya-Hindi
05. Shoof Habebe

Listen here.


Hammer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hammer said...

Howdy der, dawg.
Cool thang is some blawggers are all high on Ahmed Abdul-Malik all again.

Azzan (spelled alternately as athan), is not actually music. It's acording to Islamic heritage and tales, a call of prayer that one 'sahabi' (close apprentice or fellow of Prophet Mohammed), had dreamt in a dream. He went to the prophet to tell him what he'd heard, and the prophet agreed to make it the call for Muslims whenever time for one of the five per day prayers came.

It has few verses that one should repeat; sometimes twice and some four times. Many music encyclopedias classify it as 'music'. Well, they can do whatever they wish to, but azzan is not based on any musical tunage or scales: it's a verse recited and with time, became mis-uttered by 'muzziens' (the prayer callers), to a very extreme degree.

Blues music has its origins, on the other hand in griot poetry, which is again, something that the Mauritanian Moors took from the eastern part of north Africa (namely, Sudan). Blues music wasn't played in America until the slave-meisters began shipping their slaves to and fro, from one coast to another, having given some infectual influences to South American and Caribbean music all along the way. Africa is said to having been the place where the first music instrument was created (the earth bow), and this makes it easier to connect the dots here to get the greater musical map of early world music in general.

Lastly, the word Blues itself is said to come from looking at the sky (the blue/blues), while slaves spent their entire time picking cotton as sharecroppers. Through bloodied hands and tearful eyes, I am sure all they could do at that time was to stare at the 'Big Guy Upstairs' and holler at him to just... let them go 'free'. Funny image one can also recollect in mind when it comes to such a bullshack-filled 'cuntry' like America is... how blood (red), sky (blue), and cotton (white) are now the colours of its dumbtarded flag, or however they try to 'big' it up as ptff, Old... Glory? Yeah, sure! Glory my punk ass.

Blues music at the purest form ever is the earlier country-blues/grunt-'n'-slide acoustic guitar songs... and nothing feels or sounds like it. If one listens and hears nothing inside, then man, he or she must... no HAS no soul.

Today's blues music is a big shit-heap of commercial fuckola. Nothing beats the old masters, son. Not by jumps and leaps.

Your post is much preeshed.

Rock on.


Hammer said...


I went to my own blawg after posting (and, re-posting this comment because I had me something to add/delete), and much to ma surprise... saw this: << "posted by ΣΕΒΑΧ at "ΚΑΦΕ ΣΕΒΑΧ"" half an hour ago...

Whoa!!! Hawly isht!

the infection spreads! RIGHT ON!


Holly said...

Thank you very much for this wonderful lp! Much appreciated.

ajnabi1957 said...

Always a pleasure to get your take! I agree azaan is not music by definition but who can argue that a good muezzin in the fullness of the spirit is not 'singing'?

ajnabi1957 said...

Holly, Most welcome!

Anonymous said...

thank you very much for all of your informations and great work! I was researching Islam and Jazz when I was writing something on this matter on saxontheweb a saxophone forum where a post appeared on “ favourite muslim sax players”

Perhaps you care to contribute to that thread? I wanted to quote your many and interesting ideas on the relationship between Jazz and Islam but it would be better if they would come from the author.

Thanks anyway :-)


ajnabi1957 said...

Andre, so kind of you. Feel free to quote. Looks like a good forum, thanks for clueing me in.

Anonymous said...

it's down...and it would be so nice if you can do a reup.


Come in Number 51, your time is up. said...

Hello, can you repost? The link is off. Thanks!