Source: North Jersey – Rebecca Baker
But as soon as he picks up a set of drumsticks, it becomes abundantly clear that the Dwight-Englewood fourth-grader has talent far beyond his years.
“To me, he plays like a man,” said jazz pianist Preston Vismala, who recently played with Malachi at the family’s home in Orange. “A lot of time when I have my back to him, it doesn’t occur to me that I’m playing with a kid.”
Malachi is a musical prodigy. He has been drumming since the age of 2 and performing since 5. He has played at benefit concerts around the New York City area, been the subject of an online documentary and was featured in the Huffington Post.
His dream, however, is to perform for President Obama. “It would be such an honor to play for such a great man,” he said.
Nasser and Marthe Salomon-Samedy are helping their only child develop his skills, enrolling him in an afterschool music program, taking him to private piano lessons and sending him to a private school with an African drumming ensemble.
But the Samedys don’t want their son to lose his childhood to his talent. Malachi still has to do chores, keep up his grades and take care of his pets.
“We’ve been so careful,” Nasser Samedy said. “We’ve said no to ‘The Queen Latifah Show,’ to ‘America’s Got Talent,’ to Steve Harvey. I’m appalled at parents who push kids to be adults. You can never get back your childhood. Let a kid be a kid.”
Malachi has fit in well at the private Dwight-Englewood School, Principal Peter Davies said. He performed with students twice his age at the opening assembly, and Davies said he is popular with his peers.
“Kids really are drawn to him,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve heard an unkind word from him or about him. He’s a very positive force. And it’s not just his music.”
His music teacher, Mary Heveran, called Malachi’s drumming “amazing” but also said he has shown musical ability beyond percussion.
“Twice a year we have a ‘Share Your Music’ program, and I was sure he was going to play the drums,” she recalled. “Instead he sang a song that he wrote. The writing was beautiful. The way he sang it was beautiful.”
While Malachi is primarily a jazz drummer, he plays classical music on the piano and listens to pop music ranging from the Beatles to Bruno Mars. He calls Michael Jackson “the greatest performer who ever lived.” If you disagree, “he’ll get into an argument with you,” his father said.
Music is in Malachi’s blood. His grandfather, Emmanuel Samedy, was a percussionist in Haiti and a club performer in New York City. Nasser Samedy became a professional bassist and played with a hip-hop group in the early 1990s, Color Me Badd, whose debut album featured the hits “I Wanna Sex You Up” and “All 4 Love.”
After leaving the group, Samedy played professionally as a guest bassist, touring with Paula Abdul and collaborating with other R&B artists, before returning to the New York area in 1995.
That year he met Haitian artist Marthe Salomon at a bus stop in New Jersey. Malachi was born in 2004, and from his earliest days he showed a propensity for drumming.
“It’s like the drums [were] always calling him,” said his mother, a preschool teacher in Newark. “The minute he could hold something in his hand, he started hitting on things. He was constantly trying to play something. He was drumming all over the house. After a while I told Nasser, ‘You have to do something.’ “
His father bought a drum pad and drumsticks for Malachi at 18 months. At age 2 Malachi had his own full drum set, complete with high-hat and cymbals.
At age 4 he was the youngest student accepted into Mark Murphy’s Music, a private music school in South Orange. Murphy said the little boy’s maturity was “striking” and that it was clear he would be able to handle music lessons from adults.
“He’s kind of like a sponge,” Murphy said. “He’s really in a special top-tier bracket.”
Malachi and his father soon were performing together at inner-city schools, in what they called the “All Things Possible” Tour. Malachi remembered his pep talk to students: “If you want to be a fireman, you can be a fireman. If you want to be a policeman, you can be a policeman. If you want to be a musician like me and my dad, you can be a musician. All things are possible.”
Word of Malachi’s talent spread, and he found himself invited to professional charity concerts. In 2011 he performed with five-Grammy-winning jazz musician Roy Wooten at bergenPAC to raise money for Haiti and at CNBC’s “Night of Hope” benefit to promote child safety across the country.
Performing in front of a crowd doesn’t faze him.
“When you go onstage enough, you end up getting used to it,” he said. “I get to express all my feelings into whatever I want to play.”
This year Malachi performed at the Urban League for Bergen County’s annual fundraising and scholarship gala in Tenafly and at a gun-violence prevention benefit in Newark. In the spring he plans to play at a fundraiser for sickle cell anemia.
The charity performances, his father said, are a way for Malachi to “give back” and, possibly, to earn a chance to play for the president.
“The foundation for that was: If you do great things, great things will come back to you,” he said.
Englewood City Councilwoman Lynne Algrant, who met Nasser Samedy when he managed a now-closed Staples store in Englewood, helped Malachi apply to Dwight-Englewood, where her husband works as the high school principal.
“He clearly loves to play and loves to perform, but he’s just as glad to be running around,” she said. “It’s a family with such wonderful values. They see his gift as something for the community.”
Vismala, who lives in Englewood and is a Grammy-winning music producer as well as a jazz pianist, said playing with the young drummer is “tremendous.”
“The experience is so beautiful,” he said. “I can throw things at him and he communicates — that’s the essence of jazz. He’s just responding to what’s going on.”
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