Image courtesy of Stefanie Fiebrig at textilvergehen
In 1969 Pharoah Sanders recorded a fifteen minute long track called “Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah.”
You might not know it. Many don’t, for it’s an impenetrable and challenging record. It’s difficult to listen to, especially for those who don’t know their late sixties, black consciousness, free jazz.
It’s centred around a looping piano melody played by his regular collaborator, Lonnie Liston Smith. Smith’s playing is simple, refined, restrained, intentionally straight. And calm when all else around him descends into sheer bloody madness.
The drums are played mostly on deep, ringing toms and a sparse but open kick. A maracca holds the rhythm, sat behind them. One-two-three, one-two-three.
It is, as the spoken word intro says, a “prayer for peace.” Though it is largely anything but peaceful.
And after deep, then high, throat singing by Leon Thomas, a supernatural kind of yodelling, a single vocal intones over the top “Prince of Peace, won’t you hear my plea, ring your bells of peace, let loving never cease.”
It circles around itself easily for five minutes. Sanders’ tenor saxophone floats breezily over the top of it all like an albatross through a gale over the Southern Ocean.
But as time moves on it starts crashing together. Building, rising to a crescendo of chaotic noise. The drums begin to thunder, slapping where they were being previously stroked. They start to slip out of time. They barrel around.
The saxophone leaves its peaceful journey behind as it descends into oblivion. It squarks and squeals as unholy bedlam beckons below. The track rises and rises, it clatters and it crashes until it becomes almost unlistenable. Until it becomes a terrifying cacophony.
It is Sanders’ representation of America in 1969.
It is a song of fire and of brimstone. Of the brink of civil war. Of people baying for blood, of things getting out of hand.
But underpinning it all is Liston Smith’s piano, smoothly holding true to its original course. Sticking to that breezy melody behind the deafening roar, its fingers in its ears, a look of calm on its face.
“I am here,” it says, “if ever you need me.”
Now, Sebastian Polter often plays with his head down. With a charging, chaotic and seemingly unstructured determination. A bull in a china shop. A Hurricane. But just briefly on Saturday night, were he a pianist he’d be Lonnie Liston Smith at the heart of “Hum Allah Hum…”
For the slightest, but most important of moments, he was the calm amongst the storm. As the flares burned ever hotter and the noise grew ever more piercing, and the tension, already ramped up to an unhealthy level for any normal human being, reached unreal new peaks in the Alte Försterei, he was there to take the weight.
Christian Gentner’s shot had ballooned over the bar and the home fans, the Unioner, held their heads in their hands until they noticed that Aytekin, the referee, was going to the video assistant. Most of them hadn’t seen Dedryk Boyata’s foul.
As many Hertha fans will tell you they still haven’t.
He waited and he waited. He ignored Boyata, one of the best players on the pitch, and his desperate claims, and he walked to the touchline to see his monitor like he had all the time in the world. Like there wasn’t 22,000 people all around him screaming bloody murder. Imploring devils, conjuring demons.
Whistling and jeering and singing how he and his ilk were “ruining our game.” Which, though not their fault, they may well be.
Crashing and banging like the crescendo to “Hum Allah Hum…”
Polter already had the ball in his hand. He’d scored one last week against Bayern, knowing that Manuel Neuer, once the best keeper in the land and now just one of them, had already saved Sebastian Andersson’s earlier effort.
He held it close to him tenderly like he was protecting it from the fires burning. He clutched it to his stomach in both hands. He kept his simple melody playing throughout it all.
He’s got a beautiful deep speaking voice, Polter. It sits somehow incongruously, even though he is a heroically big man. He said he used to be shy as a kid, his pale blue eyes give that away occasionally, but his voice is the realisation of the image he projects on the pitch.
It is one of dominance. Of control. Of power.
But also one of preturnatural calm.
There is a story that with his last breath, a man on death row in the 1930’s gave a desperate plea to the only man on earth he trusted enough to rescue him. The only man on earth strong enough.
“Save me, Joe Louis,” he said.
An Unioner in a similar position would almost certainly call for Polter.
Finally Aytekin came back, signalling towards the spot. Polter put the ball down, took a deep breath or two and took three-and-a-half steps back.
He said he didn’t hit it very well after the fact, but he was doing himself a great disservice.
For even though Hertha’s keeper, Rune Jarstein, got his right hand to the ball, there was just too much power. Though it was hit too straight, it was also just enough to the keeper’s right. And though it was hit too low, it was just high enough.
And for him to have kept his head in the last minutes of the game that had been talked about all week, that had been disrupted and nervous and ugly and tense. That had battled to a crescendo like that in “Hum Allah Hum Allah…” he had done everything right.
He had kept that melody going while all else around him was chaos.
And amongst all the acrimony in the fallout of the derby, we could also do well to remember that this is football.
We could maybe use a little prayer for peace.