Guitarist Wali Ali, a New Rochelle native, is among the Westchester musicians putting on a Haiti benefit concert tomorrow night at the White Plains Performing Arts Center. He will share the stage with everyone from Guy Davis to the choir of the French Speaking Baptist Church of White Plains.
Here are members of the choir singing at the Arts Exchange yesterday.
<a href=”http://www.lohud.com/assets/mov/choir_lohud.flv” title=”Anarchy Media Player – Right click to download file” ><em>Flash video:</em></a>
From left to right are Lirose Supreme of Yonkers, Alen Myrthil of Elmsford, John Dorcinville of Greenburgh and Stephanie Saintil of Yonkers.
For more info check the performing arts center’s web site or call 914-328-1600.
Below is a Journal News article about Wali Ali written by Elzy Kolb.
April 18, 2008
Wali Ali is a lawyer who’s also an assistant manager of a health-food store – except when he’s a guitarist, which is what he’ll be tomorrow night.
He’s playing a concert in White Plains called “Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been Experienced?: The Music of Jimi Hendrix.” For he is the leader of Wali Ali and the Tambourine Band – a group that, not surprisingly, contains no tambourine.
The Brewster resident has played with acclaimed performers including the bluesman Taj Mahal, the reggae master Peter Tosh, the vocalist Donny Hathaway and the jazz saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.
He’s also been known to slip on a tux to attend the Academy Awards or visit the White House in the company of his glamorous in-laws, Ruby Dee and the late Ossie Davis of New Rochelle.
He’s won an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers award for songwriting and he contributed to the Broadway musical “Mule Bone.”
But he’s still a member of the American Bar Association who still works at a health-food store.
Offstage, the 52-year-old is known as Wali Muhammad, who earned his degree and was admitted to the bar while doing his job at Manna Foods in White Plains.
“This all came together from me not taking the traditional route out of high school right to college, then getting a job,” Muhammad explains. “I started playing professionally right from high school. Then I started taking on family and the responsibilities thereof. Of course, in the music business I wasn’t making a lot of money, so I had to take an alternate route.”
Muhammad’s circuitous eight-year journey through undergrad work culminated in a liberal arts degree from Purchase College. “I studied various things, from astronomy to Calc 2,” he says. “I took a whole lot of social-science classes, because they were easy for me. Sciences, though, were kickin’ my behind.”
Law school was next. “I always have had an interest in politics, understanding international law,” he says. “I wanted to get an advanced degree. I wanted to get something that would allow me to dig in and do something scholastically that would help my mind.” He received his degree from Pace Law School in White Plains in 2005.
During his adventures in academia, Muhammad studied nutrition, which led to his 13-year tenure at Manna Foods. “You have to have some stability if you have a family,” he says. He and his wife, Hasna Muhammad, an educator and published poet, have been together for 31 years, and have three “young-adult” children.
The consistency of the day job at Manna is “very important,” Muhammad says. “It may not be a lot of money, but I know some musicians who don’t have that, and it’s like they’re constantly falling off little cliffs.”
Muhammad approaches all of his gigs like research projects, so he hit the books to prepare for tomorrow’s concert. The performance will focus on Hendrix’s first three albums: “I went into those he released when he was alive, the ones he controlled, did the mixing on and was involved in soup to nuts.”
“This is the lawyer coming out now: I must have read about 2,000 pages,” Muhammad says, laughing. “I wanted to be able to incorporate this understanding of him, not through just listening to his songs but by understanding his life.”
Hendrix had a tragic life, he says. “He gave us all this great music in a short life; he died at 27 years old. He had no one giving him any support, the basic things that family gives you. You have to have people who are looking out for you when you’re signing contracts; he had none of that.”
And there’s another reason for higher education: “I didn’t go to law school to become a lawyer. It was to understand the law. Professionally, as an artist, you have to have all that so you can understand contracts, so you can understand what your rights are as a performer. People who don’t have that background suffer, and Hendrix was a perfect example.”
The Tambourine Band includes two friends with whom he grew up in New Rochelle: bassist David Merrill and drummer Steve Brown, a teaching assistant at New Rochelle High School. The group’s name came from its leader’s love of Bob Dylan and his song “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
Muhammad is the son of the longtime New Rochelle resident Julia Saunders and the late Pearlee Saunders, one of the World War II fighter pilots who are now known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
In conversation, Muhammad’s ready laugh booms out frequently as he leavens his more serious points with jokes, remarks about the number of musicians who share his name, backstage showbiz anecdotes, and self-deprecating comments about his inability to replicate Hendrix’s sartorial grandeur. “I’m a people-person,” he says. “I like talking to people, and sometimes I’m funny.”
But he’s not joking when he explains why he doesn’t practice law full time.
“To become a lawyer. I’d have to drop the rest of my life,” he says. “To make money doing it, you have to give up your whole life. A lot of [lawyers] love it, like I love playing the guitar. That’s what I live to do. If I really loved the law like that, where I was able to give up these other things in my life, then I would be right there with it. But I’m not able to do that. I don’t have that love.”