MHS students hear an immigrant’s tale, told through jazz
Zarif Khan, also known as Hot Tamale Louie, may not be a name most people have heard, but his story was told during musical performances Friday morning and afternoon at the Marshalltown Community Auditorium.
Coordinated by Gary Zmolek, the event was put on free of charge to students and the general public thanks to donations from local entities.
“I was in the presentation in October, doing the readings, and I thought it was so great, and wanted to see it come to Marshalltown,” Zmolek said.
“Hot Tamale Louie” was first performed in November 2016 as a Faculty Showcase at the University of Iowa. The favorable response allowed for the show to go on tour. Marshalltown High School was the first school in Iowa on the stop of tours.
The show was created by University of Iowa Professor John Rapson of the UI School of Music’s Jazz Studies Program. He got the idea for the program after reading a magazine article about Khan in the New Yorker.
The performance, told through live music, photographs and slides, followed Khan’s story as an Afganistan-born immigrant who took over the operation of an eatery in rural Wyoming, after coming to the U.S. in 1907.
MHS Principal Jacque Wyant said there were multiple aspects of the show that made her interested in having students view it.
“The story of an immigrant who had challenges with his documentation as he strived to improve his life is like the story of many of our Marshalltown families,” she said. “And, the multi-media side of this presentation is valuable to exposing our students to fine arts: combination of visualization with various genres of music.”
The restaurant, called Louie’s, served tamales, hamburgers and other foods. Khan lived a frugal life facing the challenges of owning his own restaurant. He was known to spend his money freely for the benefit of others and not for himself.
He became a U.S. citizen in 1925, but it was later revoked because of a series of laws that targeted “non-whites,” and regained it 30 years later.
In 1964, he was fatally stabbed by his grandnephew, Sultan Khan, because of a dispute.
In 2015, his descendants worked to found a mosque in Gillette, Wyoming, it’s opening receiving a variety of reactions — some favorable and some not as positive.
Rapson and Danyel Gaglione, an immigrant living in Iowa City, teamed to compose and arrange the music. The performance featured folk musician Dave Moore with the dramatic monologues by Zmolek. Rapson uncovered over 300 historic photos from the Middle East, American West and other places to help illustrate the story. Musicians included UI alumni Ryan Smith (reeds), Tara McGovern (violin), Dan Padley (guitar), Blake Shaw (bass) and Justin LeDuc (drums).