The Spirit of World Music
|Associate Professor Jamey Haddad is a genre-bending hand percussion specialist who plays with some of the top artists in the American and world-music scenes.|
Perhaps it's the influence of my Lebanese mother and father (both American-born) that made my foray into non-Western cultures seem so natural. Then again, maybe it's my inability to really sound like my jazz heroes who prompted me to explore a wide-open playing field with like-minded players from around the world. I am extremely lucky to have lived, played, taught, and been taught music as a global language.
In the past year, I had the opportunity to make a trio record with singer Nancy Wilson and then go to Beirut, Lebanon, and Amman, Jordan, as bombs fell in Baghdad, to perform with Iraqi singer Kazim El Sahir. (The BBC claims that Sahir has the sixth most recognizable voice in the world.) I also performed or recorded with Dave Liebman, Palestinian oud player and violinist Simon Shaheen, composer/reed player Daniel Schnyder, the Paul Winter Consort, Italian singer Chiara Civello, and Venezuelan pianist Leo Blanco. Another highlight was a five-week tour with the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music featuring the Moroccan women's troupe Hadra des Femmes de Taroudant. When we parted, the troupe members gave me their drums. There was not a dry eye among us. Also on that tour were an Algerian-Andalusian Jewish singer, a southern Christian gospel group, and both Jewish and Islamic cantors. I can't overlook the massive We Are the Future concert at Rome's Circus Maximus organized by Quincy Jones. And as I write, I have just finished performing for 600,000 in Rome with Simon and Garfunkel.
I mention these things for the simple reason that, although I do know something about many kinds of music, I am not an authentic player of these genres. The only thing in which I am authentic is my ability and desire to harmonize. Some of these world music artists could get someone from their own musical culture to provide a more authentic sound, but they are searching for a mix that helps them bring their compositions and feelings to life. Sometimes it's a business strategy to use musicians from outside circles to gain some exposure. Ultimately, I hope they like me for the right reason.
If I am anything, I am a jazz musician first. Becoming a jazz musician was all I really wanted to do. 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, it is my jazz skills that help me the most. But I sometimes detect a kind of arrogance among some of my jazz brothers and sisters when it comes to participating in a world-music environment. Most of them-particularly horn players-believe that they have the upper hand because they know how to play over chord changes. In treating the music as simply a platform for them to blow over, these artists miss the more useful idea of functioning within the music.
It seems that many players are somewhat musically inbred, and we all hate looking bad while trying to find our way out of our musical environment and into something foreign. The reaction is just to do our thing. Now this wouldn't be bad if the others-say Tuareg musicians from the deep Sahara-could feel like they were part of the foreign process.
In truth, different styles of phrasing and the practice of soloing over chord changes will often leave ethnic musicians cold and a bit confused. They wonder, "Why would you do that when we are doing this?" On countless occasions, it's been my observation that it is usually up to the Western musician to make up the difference in these collaborations, if possible. The good news is that the investment pays dividends in every way imaginable. First off, if you're interested, you start to learn what you don't know, and that can be substantial. Next, you might realize what you can do to make the most of the musical situation. This might mean that you play a totally different musical role and dig it!
There came a time when I found that the quality of vibration that came out of any musician was far more meaningful than what he or she played. I found myself falling more in love with music that I knew nothing about than with the music I knew intimately. How strange. Certainly, in many musical situations I was puzzled and mystified about what to do and when and why I should do it. But with the right spirit, the process of gaining insights is a total joy.
I often describe to my world-music classes an event that was a real turning point for me. In 1988, I was invited, along with Richard Horowitz (co-composer for the film The Sheltering Sky), to rehearse for two weeks in Marrakech. Our job was to develop a musical program to perform for the king of Morocco at the World's Fair in Seville, Spain. Richard, five other American musicians, and I began rehearsing with 10 Moroccan folk groups that came mostly from Berber traditions. One day, after rehearsing a song for hours, I started getting bored with the short repetitive tune. Afterward, one of the groups 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 that they played 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), a violinist, 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 but notice 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 had been up that day).
To my surprise, after a whole day of rehearsing, they were still playing that same little tune! I thought I had it all figured out during 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 down beat really wasn't and how the melody fell against the time in a totally different way. Even the musicians looked different. As the night went on, my perception of the tune changed significantly, and I too was changed! I remember walking home hours later, basking in the afterglow of the experience. Although their music wasn't new, it was like a passport to another dimension, a new level of perception, and everything seemed richer and deeper.
At Berklee, we have so many international students that the music of John Coltrane is as exotic to some as Balinese music is to others. If indeed music has a power to provide a functional spiritual dimension to our passage on the planet, we have the obligation to share more of it with our students. And being students ourselves, we need to expand our musical diet and accept the greater role of music on the planet.
Last year, Berklee offered a wonderful seminar for the faculty at which Joe Lovano talked about the importance of studying the masters of jazz. Many of my most talented students come from such countries as Peru, Greece, and China. They have no interest in jazz and no cultural link to the music. I asked Joe what he would tell those students. He said, "They could have stayed home, but they came to Berklee. Since they're here with all this great music, can't they learn something from the jazz masters?"
I agree. The skills acquired by studying the jazz tradition are perhaps the greatest tools for reaching out to the rest of the musical world-even if you have no desire to be a jazz musician. I suggest that you give the masters (wherever they may be) a chance to touch you. Invest in your originality, but stay close to your true musical nature. Allow yourself to absorb the feeling of any musical setting you are attracted to. At first you might not hear what to play, but a willing spirit and an open heart can set the stage for the miracle in music to occur.