The Mudman: David Lines Meets Ahmad Malik
When Ahmad Malik plants his seeds he expects them to grow. A man of one woman, seven daughters, one boy and one granddaughter, the Jamaican-born Malik is the nurturing kind. As a producer, writer, musician and dad, he’s got a few different angles to play. As a farmer on his modest fields in North Hyde Park, there are many seeds to sow, much ground to cultivate. Either way, life is sweet for Malik. “We live the music here,” he says about his life in the rural pastures. Today, as he digs at the ground, he’s got a one piece Carhartt outfit that says: Mud on the Road. “I do my own thing, I plant my garden, I’m an artist,” he proudly proclaims, adding, “I am the Mudman.” Ahmad Malik is an international man of music, but grounded in the hills of Vermont. Last year he was caught walking the streets of Cannes by the Midem Daily News, flashing an easy smile and the universal sign of peace. Although more famous for it’s gaudy film festival, with over a 100 different countries and 15,000 people, the village in France also serves as the host for one of the biggest music gatherings in the world
Under the afternoon sun of mid-May, he stands in his Vermont field fiddling with some fishing line he’s using to wind between two posts as a web for the peas to climb. Surrounded by a meandering ridge of the Green Mountains towering above the land, his three year old granddaughter Mikela scuttles about, digging dirt, picking up rocks and giggling.
“She’s my mentor,” explains the 45 year old Malik, his dreadlocks mischievously flopping over his face. “She’s genuine, sincere, and just happy.” Out here on the Malik farm, just a quick right turn off Route 100, the lessons come easy. It’s simple he says of his granddaughter’s frolicking innocence, “she teaches me to be honest.”
Located on the outskirts of town sits a few acres of prime soil and one of the funkiest farm/studios in Northern Vermont. Painted in the glorious colors of reggae - red, yellow and green - a sign welcomes visitors outside the house on the front door to “The PondaRasta.” Dozens of folks from around the world record and are entertained here each year. Outside and inside, the colors of reggae adorn everything from the walls to the fences, rocks and barn.
“This is Vermont,” Malik boasts with a wry grin and a sweeping hand gesture around the stunning view. “We do shit here.”
Yes, we do.
Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, Malik and his family moved to Vermont five years ago, living in Bolton for a year and then moving to North Hyde Park. Before that he was the ‘boy from Laupahoehoe,’ where he spent 20 years tilling the Hawaiian soil on the big island.
Growing up in the Bay Area he caught the movement of the Panthers and Black Power. Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton taught him to take care of himself because sometimes in America, the rules are, there are no rules. Especially if they depend on the color of your skin or the depth of your pockets. But there was also the music. Among others, Bob Marley, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker blasted out a refuge for reason, through the busting rhythms of a ripping tune and spanking lyrics.
And he’s learned those lessons well. Strolling along the streets of Cannes, he was recognized as ‘Ahmad Malik of Rasta F.L.Y.T.E. Music.’ A one-man show, F.L.Y.T.E., an acronym for two concepts: Family. Language. Youth. Technology; and Education. It also stands for Fully Loving You Throughout Eternity. Closer to home, he wonders why his neighbors haven’t called. “They come from Trinidad, Hawaii, Jamaica, Los Angeles, Montreal, and France” he notes of the visitors that have recorded in the 110 year old farm house. “But they don’t come from across town.”
Some do, though. Local diva, Tammy Fletcher of nearby Eden has stopped by to record. “I’ve never walked out of there without thinking they really care about me,” says Fletcher about Malik and his family. “Ahmad is
really protective of what he’s doing,” notes Fletcher, “he doesn’t believe in slavery in the 20th Century; that we should own the music, not record companies.”
At any given moment, in any hour of the day, all sorts of sounds can be heard at the Malik farm. Much of it hears like the rhetoric of good, clean living as life on the farm has obviously been good for Malik. “The land is the foundation for all my music,” he explains. Sitting out on the swinging seat set up on the top of the field, Malik, in his customary way, switches from that small personal observation to a big elusive thought. “The message,” he says, comes as much out of Miles trumpet as from Malcolm X’s words.”
Like Chuck D. of Public Enemy, Malik thinks tough words of truth in a spiritual, emotional, and musical context can be used to “cultivate, both mentally and spiritually, and to nurture the dreams of the mind till they become reality in your heart.” Words are tools, weapons even, to be used wisely and well in the world according to Malcolm, Chuck D. and Malik. “Music,” he says, “is a healing tool. It’s how we refresh the spirit.”
Where there is ignorance and intolerance, education and evolution can be the only way to overcome the stupidity according to these fine gentlemen. On Malik’s wall sits a bumper sticker sporting the commentary, ‘If you think education is expensive, TRY IGNORANCE.’ A self-taught studio master, he lives to get better today, not wait for tomorrow. “I come to complete, not compete,” he asserts with the wistful smile of a man content with what he’s done. “Competition is the finish without the love; compete with love and it’s a team.”
Still, even here in this pastoral paradise, perhaps especially here, the demons of discrimination love to dance. In a recent teachers strike at the elementary school, Malik was brought up on charges - later dismissed by the state’s attorney - of disorderly conduct for what he believes was being an outspoken black man in town.
“Disorderly conduct is a fabricated charge that they make up when they don’t have a real charge,” he said citing the persecution of Dr. King and Malcolm X. “Those issues, since I was a boy, have been around and here it is almost the year 2000.”
With racial profiling rife on the nation’s highways and New York Mayor Guiliani’s storm troopers shooting unarmed black men dead, it’s not hard to see his point. To Malik it’s the “direct result of the white persons ability for denial, subjugation and manipulation of the courts, cops and process.”
In 1965 Malcolm X spoke some piercing thoughts, fed up with the white bred, spoon fed way of the American propaganda machine, much like Malik today in his little villa off Route 100. “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for, or against,” Malcolm wrote. “I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”
Smart people like Bob Marley and Speech from Arrested Development put together some of the same string of thoughts, brought together in rhythm and mixed with tune. Be strong, pay attention, get involved, vote and be prepared to protect yourself is how it goes.
Although Malik does not add the phrase that always made Malcolm so controverserial, one knows that he feels it too, that to get there, to have justice in the real world, must be done sometimes by any means necessary.
For now the means are music. While America - and Vermont - still grapples with its identity, divisions and angst, there is for now, the refuge of the farm, his studio and the music. Packed in the loft of the PondaRasta, the studio loft is stuffed with equipment, pictures, computers, books. Built entirely by Malik, the place was set up through the helpful hands of King Mike and P.R. down at Advance music. Equipped with all sorts of instruments, it has enough gear for musicians to make their sound and leave with a freshly burned CD that day. On one of the computers in the dark room, a screen savor floats by, HAS IT CHANGED YOUR LIFE YET?
If one chooses to spend their time like Malik they can write, produce, manufacture and cut the words, message and music that comes with it. One of Malik’s tunes with a reggae beat goes like this: This is a prayer for all mankind, it teaches us all we must be kind. Yes, this is a prayer for all mankind, it was designed to free our minds.
Along with an associate, Zeke Finley, Malik may have just lit the spark to start a fire when Tower Records recently picked up a R.A.S.T.A. produced title, Only True Love. Easy-going, uplifting, righteous and kind, Malik believes, “it’s just about the music, mon.”
Sitting out at the Malik farm, kicking back on the swing chair, you can hear that Lenny Kravitz tune... Let’s wander slowly through the fields. Slowly, slowly through the fields. We’ll touch the leaves that touch the sky. Just you and I, through fields of joy.
Yet Malik thinks more to Vermont. “Ya hear that?” he asks. “The hills sing if you listen.” The breeze is rustling the new grass, the wind is running through the fresh leaves, the birds are in lust, and the bees are sucking the pollen.
“Ah yes,” he say in that Jamaican-laced accent. “The hills they are alive, with the sound of music.”
David Lines is a local writer who’s family owns the Oasis Diner in downtown Burlington. Go eat there. Now.