Hot Tamale Louie | The Story of Zarif Khan (as told with music)

Saturday, October 20, 2018 | 7:00pm | Maquoketa Art Experience

Created and performed by John Rapson, Professor University of Iowa Music Department


A genre-bending tale with lilting Western ballads, gentle Mexican

waltzes, folk songs and melodies from the East, evocative tone

poems and raucous ragtime melded together by


a story about LEAVING HOME

of TRAVEL and wandering the WEST


a story of FORTUNES won and lost



a story of LOVE late in life

and a dastardly MURDER

with cowboys and Indians, landowners and congressmen,

society ladies and ladies of the night, school children and old folks

Afghans, Mexicans, Chinese, Czechs and Poles,

and special appearances by the famous

Buffalo Bill Cody and Medicine Joe Crow

You will laugh, you will cry

you will fret, you will sigh

Special guest artists,

Iowa City’s singer/songwriter legend: Dave Moore voice, slide guitar, accordion, harmonica

And introducing singer/songwriter: Danyel Gaglione voice, North African mandole

from France, now an Iowa City immigrant.



An Afghan child of twelve leaves his home near the Khyber Pass, wandering India for

years before boarding a boat in Bombay and landing in Seattle. After exploring the west,

he settles in Sheridan, Wyoming to take over a business selling tamales. He works 80

hours a week and becomes famous for his food and eventually learning how to invest in

the stock market. As he gains and loses fortunes, he nonetheless lives frugally choosing

to spend his money in acts of kindness and generosity. He gains citizenship in 1925, has

it revoked by U.S. xenophobic laws and regains it again thirty years later. He becomes a

legend, both back home in the borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan and in

Wyoming. He has an arranged marriage late in life and sires six children before abruptly

and tragically being murdered in his 80s. His children and their offspring have recently

founded a mosque in Gillette, Wyoming that has drawn the ire of some eastern Wyoming

residents and received national attention in the press. (Based on an article by Kathryn Schulz in the June

6/13, 2016 issue of The New Yorker: American Chronicles: Citizen Khan and used with written permission



-Hot Tamale Louie’s trick is to make you think this is an old-fashioned tale told through

traditional means, but in reality this is a vital and modern work whose adventurous

collision of musical genres, aural and visual storytelling, and themes of place, politics,

and identity is as reflective of our complex times as the history it seeks to illuminate.

Andre Perry

The Englert Theatre, Mission Creek Festival director


-Wow! Wow! Hot Tamale Louie was hands down one of the best performances we’ve

ever seen. We loved everything about it with the emphasis on everything! The whole

concept was done so well that it’s difficult to express how much we enjoyed it. Everyone

gave outstanding performances … the music and musicians blew us away, the narrator

was awesome, the design, narrative, and presentation of the slides, and even the timing of

the slides was right on the mark. What a great, great story you told. Thank you so much

for an evening that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.

Justin and Jill Fishbaugh


-John Rapson has created a timely musical piece called “Hot Tamale Louie”. It tells a

colorful brave life story in music and prose and encapsulates our current immigration

“mess.” An Afghan immigrant is determined for a better life, risks it all to succeed. His

story shows how our laws move back and forth in a dizzying dance … first to permit him

citizenship, then to take it away. The story doesn’t end there. Rapson’s music

compositions allow us to taste this determined life in a Wyoming town at the turn of the

century, a combination of many skin tones, heritage and beliefs and ties it to today in a

brilliant whimsical musical way.

Lisa Baum, KCCK radio

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