Oak Lawn Native Brings Music, Culture To 'The Band's Visit'

Lisa Fielding
September 05, 2019 - 11:31 am
Ronnie Malley

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Ronnie Malley is a first generation Palestinian-American who grew up playing in his family's band.

"My dad used to have a club on the North Side of Chicago back in the 80's called Cleopatra. I'd watch he and his friends play. I started playing guitar at about 9-years old. My dad said if you get good enough, you can play with us," he recalled. "At about 11-years old, I started playing with my dad."

Malley said his dad listened to a lot of Egyptian, Assyrian, Middle Eastern music and it had a huge impact on him and his brother.

"I ended up touring with the family band playing weddings, clubs, festivals, all across the country for the next 15 years."

Malley spent many years in the corporate world, in banking and even served as a real estate appraiser, but soon realized music was his calling.

"I started teaching music. I studied Indian music for many years. I found myself being asked to lecture at universities about Middle Eastern music and its background. I even created a degree called Global Music studies at DePaul University."

"The Band's Visit"
Broadway in Chicago

Malley has since performed at The Goodman, The Looking Glass, and Silk Road Rising theaters.

"I was in the tour of 'Arabian Knights' and a friend called me about doing a workshop for 'The Band's Visit.' This was in 2010. A couple of years later, I heard from the producers and I sent them a lot of the Egyptian music I grew up listening to. I wasn't available for the musical at that time."

It would later win 10 Tony Awards.

"I couldn't more proud. I felt like I was like an uncle to the show," he said.

"The Band's Visit"
Broadway in Chicago

"The director features instruments of the heritage. He incorporated instruments iconic to the Middle East. Here we are, on Broadway, showcasing a show that features Middle Eastern artists in a dignified manner," Malley said. 

Now, he's playing "Camal" in the national tour. He is also the dialect coach for the musical's tour.

"Its overwhelming to be back in Chicago. Last night's show, I had some friends call, but didn't know they came, then I went to the stage door and there were 20 people waiting for me. It's great to back in the Chicago," Malley said.

"The Band's Visit"
Broadway in Chicago

Malley's wife and two children still live in the city.

"The Band's Visit" is at the Cadillac Palace Theater until Sept. 15.