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.
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.” 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 songs 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 Associate Professor Paul Kalina from the UI Department of Theatre Arts. Rapson compiled more than 300 historic photos from the Middle East, American West and elsewhere 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).