Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ahmed Salaheldeen

Reflections on 
Ahmed Salaheldeen
L.A. Emenari, III


    I first met Brother at Malcolm X college in 1971 and was immediately struck by his wearing of the traditional Arabic headdress called a, 'kuffiyah' and most importantly by his very public acknowledgement, his recognition of an audience's applause and appreciation. He would wave or rotate his hands in a circular movement above his head. It was years afterward that he revealed its meaning to me. I never asked because somehow I knew what it mean. Supreme culture is like that unspoken, inbred and imbued.
    After all, Ahmed Salaheldeen termed his music and cultural expression as, 'International Jazz Culture' (and his name - Salaheldeen literally meant: The religion of prayer/peace).
    (Another reason I was attracted to him was because he bore a striking resemblance to my very own father. They both had this smooth round cherubim face. I used to tell him we was probably kin).
    After our initial meeting we became fast friends and he took me into his world  becoming one of my teachers of Islamic, African and International Jazz culture. We had many, many conversations over dinner, drink, laughter and even shed a few tears. Because he shared with me some of his most intimate hurts but more importantly he spoke to me mostly of love. His love of this music we call 'jazz'. He told me of humility. He was a humble being. He'd played with the very top, the elite to those not so elite. I thank him for the many lessons he imparted.
    And of those lessons was his love of Charlie Parker - BIRD. I saw him once play over at the long closed Valhalla in Hyde Park all night long Bird's bebop bounce (hours of music we would broadcast 'live' over radio station WHPK-FM), with pianist Earl DeWitt, Eddie Calhoun on bass & drummer Ajaramu. They'd swing you into 'bad health' as they say. All of them are gone now yet we still hear their sound. Then not to be outdone a week later 'Salahdeen' (as many called him), did another all Bird tribute venue, this time he broke out only his flute and bassoon! Dig that! Bird on bassoon!
    As the Muslims say, Alhamdullilah! 
    But one of the clearest of memories that struck me most about Brother was this.... When you walked into his humble abode there sitting atop his piano was a framed piece of old worn parchment with some seemingly mystic scribble. It was a photo-copy of one of his immediate ancestors Freedom Papers from American chattel slavery, that peculiar institution. He was quite proud of that rarest of documents. Not many could lay claim to such.
    He'd point to it and say, "AllahuAkbar!" (God is The Greatest)
    And now on this day we say 'AllahuAbar' because of the spirit that was sent to us in Ahmed Salaheldeen. Thank you for this jazz man who truly gave us so much of his life and his music. God is truly the greatest!