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An immigrant’s tale, told through jazz coming to Wieting

October 14, 2018
Special to The Chronicle , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

At a time when immigration is much in the news, Professor John Rapson of the UI School of Music's Jazz Studies Program has created a powerful multi-media performance piece about an early 20th-century immigrant whose story remains highly relevant today.

"Hot Tamale Louie: The Story of Zarif Khan" will be performed by Rapson and a cast of musicians and actors at the Wieting Theatre on Sunday, Oct 21, at 2 p.m.

The performance is based on a June 2016 New Yorker article that caught Rapson's eye and his ear. Zarif Khan emigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan in 1907, eventually settling in Sheridan, Wyoming, where he took over a tamale business as well as the previous owner's nickname, "Hot Tamale Louie." As he built and lost fortunes, Khan lived frugally and often spent his money in acts of kindness and generosity. He gained citizenship in 1925, had it revoked by U.S. xenophobic laws, and regained it again 30 years later. He married late in life, had six children, and became a legend both in Wyoming and back home in the borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan before meeting a tragic end. His children and their offspring have recently helped to found a mosque in Gillette, Wyoming, that has drawn the ire of some local residents and received national media attention.

Article Photos

John Rapson

Rapson immediately recognized the story's dramatic possibilities, the timeliness of its themes and the opportunities it presented to work with local musicians whose talents mirrored Khan's global wanderings. Rapson describes the show as "a genre-bending tale with lilting Western ballads, gentle Mexican waltzes, folk sngs and melodies from the East, evocative tone poems and raucous ragtime melded together by jazz."

Rapson teamed up with Danyel Gaglione, an immigrant now living in Iowa City, to collaboratively compose and arrange the material for eight musicians. The performance features local folk musician Dave Moore and dramatic monologues by an area artist. Rapson compiled more than 300 historic photos from the Middle East, American West and elasewhere to illustrate Khan's story, which is told in words, music, and visual projections. Other musicians in the ensemble include UI alumni Ryan Smith (reeds), Tara McGovern (violin), Dan Padley (guitar), Blake Shaw (bass) and Justin LeDuc (drums).

"Hot Tamale Louie" was first performed as a Faculty Showcase at the University of Iowa in November 2016,a week before the U.S. Presidential election. The enthusiastic audience response led to subsequent performances and now a tour. The band will be featured in a Celebration of the Arts in 2019 in Sheridan, Wyoming.



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