The Spirit of World Music

The Spirit of World Music
Percussive Notes
I really don’t give a damn about mixing politics with music. Music doesn’t need the burden of politics. But I was just reminded by my friend Mark Stewart that every time we play, we make some kind of political statement. Regardless of the musical setting, you’re really letting someone know where you’re coming from. That is the focus here.

Jamey Haddad with the Moroccan women's ensemble Hadra des Femmes de Taroudant.

Jamey Haddad with the Moroccan women’s ensemble Hadra des Femmes de Taroudant.

I started off the summer of 2003 by re-cording a trio record with singer Nancy Wilson. Then while the bombs were fall-ing in Baghdad, I was in-vited to Beirut, Lebanon and Amman, Jordan to perform with Iraqi singer Kazim El Sahir, acknowl-edged as the sixth most recognized voice in the world by the BBC (how do they really know?). Some-thing is up with him be-cause they had to call the army to get us in and out of both gigs. He and his whole group were fantas-tic. He had a full Iraqi or-chestra and choir with four percussionists. Some musi-cians had already experi-enced bombs in their towns and even on their homes, but before we parted they were singing and chanting my name out of thanks for wanting to share music with them. Thank God for music!

Following that, I started rehearsals with Simon and Garfunkel for a fall and spring 2004 tour. This was and is an extremely powerful and memorable part of American and Eu-ropean musical and cultural history. One night, we played Rome for 600,000 people. I was proud to see the power of Paul’s truly American form of music so well received in Europe, where although anti-Americanism was running high, people still responded openly to the mu-sic and the sentiments that created it—a different America.

The year continued with recordings and concerts with saxophonist Dave Liebman, singer Betty Buckley, Palestinian oud/violinist Simon Shaheen, com-poser/saxophonist Daniel Schnyder, The Paul Winter Consort, Italian singer Chiara Civello, and Venezuelan pianist Leo Blanco. Then there was a five-week concert series across the U.S. with the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music tour that mirrors the invited artists from the Fez Festival every June in Morocco. I performed with everybody on the tour.

My favorite was a Moroccan women’s troop, Hadra des Femmes de Taroudant, from the desert. They were seven singers/ drummers aging 24 to 74, the 74-year-old being the youngest! When we parted and they all gave me their drums as a gift, there wasn’t a dry eye among us. The tour also included Francois Atlan, an Al-gerian Andalusian Jewish singer, a southern Christian Gospel group, and a Jewish and Islamic cantor. Next, there was a huge concert at Rome’s Circus Maximus, organized by Quincy Jones’ “We Are the Future,” with a cast of hundreds in front of a sea of people. Lastly, I toured and recorded with Vietnamese-French guitarist Nguy8n Lee.

I mention these things for the simple reason that, although I do know some-thing about all those styles of music, I am not authentic in any of them. The only thing I am authentic about is my ability and desire to harmonize. I know these folks could get someone from their own musical environment to give their music a cer-tain flavor, but I would like to think they are searching for a mix that helps bring their composi-tions and feelings to life. Sometimes it’s a business strategy to use musicians from outside your normal circles to gain some recog-nition, but I hope they hire me for the right reason.

I am an extremely lucky person to have lived, played, taught, and studied music as a global language, and I can hon-estly say that I view America at its best when it comes to providing a fertile playing field for the grafting of cultures. Hav-ing said that, I think many of us may be se-duced and blinded by American pop culture and music. The danger here is that we’re coming close to putting out the cultural eyes of the rest of the world (MTV has the biggest stick). It’s like a spiritual diet of great-looking, genetically altered veg-etables that have no nutritional value. Pretty soon you become oversized and spiritually starved for the sustenance that is not there. Unfortunately, it is now becoming harder to find nutritious musical seeds.

If I am anything, I am a jazz musician first. Becoming a jazz musician was all I really wanted. My definition of jazz is broad, though. Jazz was a fusion in its inception and jazz will always be an art of fusion. In the world music scene, I know it’s those skills that help me the most. Perhaps it’s my Lebanese mother and father that made my foray into non-western cultures seem as natural as it does (they were both born in the U.S.). Or maybe it’s my inability to really sound like my jazz heroes that prompted me to explore a more wide-open playing field with like-minded players from around the world.

One thing is for sure: There came a time when I truly felt that the quality of vibration that came out of any musician was far more meaningful than what they were playing. I found myself falling in love with music that I knew nothing about, more than the music I knew inti-mately. Better yet, in these musical envi-ronments, the musicians liked me and could feel my heart, and they embraced my good-willed musical intentions (even when I wasn’t cool). Certainly, in many situations I was puzzled and mystified as to when, why, and what to do, but with the right spirit, the process of gaining in-sights is a total joy.

I often describe to my world music classes at Berklee and New England Conservatory what was a real turning point for me. In 1988 I was invited, along with Richard Horowitz (co-composer of music for the film The Sheltering Skies) to rehearse in Marrakech for two weeks. Our job was to develop a musical pro-gram to perform for the King of Morocco at the World’s Fair in Seville, Spain. Ri-chard and I, along with five other Ameri-can musicians, began rehearsing with ten different Moroccan folk groups, mostly from the Berber tradition. One day, after rehearsing a song for hours, I started get-ting bored with the short repetitive tune. Afterwards, a musician from that group invited me back to their tent camp. I was excited at the prospect of hearing these musicians play their music authentically, not the dumbed-down version so that we westerners could feel comfortable and participate.

This particular group had three male musicians—two playing bandir (an early frame drum with snares) and a violin-ist—and four female vocalists. I arrived at their large tents late in the evening, and they began playing together as they did every night. I couldn’t help noticing that the women, whom I had gotten to know at the rehearsals, seemed to go into a trance and had let their hair down to the floor (it was up during the day). To my surprise, after a whole day of re-hearsing, they were still playing that same little tune!

I thought I had it all figured out dur-ing the day, so I joined in the circle and clapped for a good while and again started to get a bit bored. Then I noticed that what I had previously thought was the downbeat really wasn’t, and how the melody fell against the time in a totally different way. Even the musicians didn’t look like the same guys, but they were. As the night went on, my perception of that tune changed significantly, and I was also changed! I remember walking home hours later basking in the afterglow of the experience. Although their music wasn’t new, it acted as a passport into another dimension where a new level of perception made everything seem richer and deeper.

We now have so many international students here in western music conserva-tories that Coltrane is as exotic to some people as Balinese music is to others. If, indeed, music has a power to provide a functional spiritual aspect to our passage on the planet, we must have the obliga-tion to share more of that planet with our students, and we as students need to take the responsibility to expand our mu-sical diet and accept the greater role of music on the planet. To be sure, the abil-ity to do one thing really well is a great start in helping create a personal stan-dard for touching the common link in all of us.

Last year, there was a wonderful inter-view for the Berklee faculty in which Joe Lovano talked about the importance of studying the masters in jazz. I was puzzled by how many of my most talented students have no interest in jazz, but—understanding that they have very little cultural link coming from countries like Peru, Greece, or China—I asked Joe what he would tell such students. His re-sponse was (as I can best remember), “Well, I guess they could have stayed home, but they came to America, so since they’re here with all this great music, who couldn’t learn something from a master?”

I agree. If you’re in America, studying the jazz tradition can provide perhaps your greatest musical tools in reaching out to the rest of the musical world, even if you never have any desire to be a jazz musician. It can all seem too much for a young player to absorb without serious devotion in this most developmental pe-riod of a young life. My suggestion is to give the masters a real chance to touch you. Invest in your originality, stay close to what feels musically true to your na-ture, and develop strong musical rela-tions with people who want to see you shine.

Finally, allow yourself to absorb the feeling of what’s really happening in whatever musical setting you find your-self attracted to. At first, you might not hear what to play, but a willing spirit and an open heart will set the stage for the miracle in music to happen.