Have you ever watched Ahmad Sharbaan while he’s at CEC?
The man never stands still. He moves constantly, giving instructions, taking a call, making another call – cell phone a permanent accessory at his ear. Even when driving from site-to-site, he works the phones, and he leans forward in the seat, as if working with the car to get him where he needs to go, as fast as it can.
“I like action,” he says. He also believes in communication. If you don’t reach out to him, be sure he will find and talk to you.
We are sitting on steps outdoors at the New York Hall of Science, during a break in CEC’s July staff meeting. Despite the heat, Ahmad is talking intensely.
His life? He was born in the South Bronx, the youngest of seven children, and he grew up in both the Bronx and Mt. Holly, New Jersey. His mother, Ruth Belle, hailed from Petersburg, Virginia, and she was a school teacher. His father, Kaarhera Sharbaan, came from Barbados and he was a US Marine.
“My father was overseas quite a bit,” says Ahmad. “He was a Marine Gunnery Sergeant. A career Marine. He was in Vietnam, he had been in Korea. When I was 12, he was stationed in Germany, and I went to visit him there. I never felt cold like that in my life. I remember asking my Mom, ‘Mom, why would Daddy ask me to come over here?’ She said, ‘What’s the matter?’ I said, ‘It’s freezing.’ And I was sick for the six months I was there, because of the weather. Every time I breathed, the mist would just freeze up my whole face. I pretty much stayed in the barracks and had a tutor, because I refused to go outside.”
In addition to wanting time with his son, the Marine in Kaahera Sharbaan perhaps intended to inculcate discipline. Certainly at home, growing up, Ahmad was always being told to present an orderly, neat appearance. Clothes had to be pressed. Nails had to be cut. Hair had to be cut. The same went for Kaahera Sharbaan’s house. Every Saturday, General Inspection. “I said, ‘Mom, what does that mean?’ General Inspection: everything had to be clean. Clean? The place is clean. Nope. You got to wash the windows, wash the walls.”
“But,” says Ahmad, “it made me a better person. So when somebody opens the door and sees you, they say, ‘This guy is about something.’”
Kaahera may have instilled self-respect in his son, but he could not lure him to the military. “Tried to get me to go into the Marines,” says Ahmad. “Not for me. My main thing is music.”
Ruth taught her son the piano. Indeed, practically all of Ahmad’s sisters and brothers played an instrument, including an older brother who died of kidney failure at 24.
“We used to stay in the house and play music,” says Ahmad. “Everything my mom provided for us – everything we did – was in the house. So we weren’t out running the streets. With me, it was music.”
Music has been Ahmad’s passion since he was at least 16. He is an audio engineer and has a production company – Strength Entertainment – and a studio at his house near Seaview, in Canarsie. “I hear seagulls first thing in the morning, last thing at night, which is very nice because it helps my creativity.”
“I do music for a lot of recording artists, a lot of music studios,” he says. “But I like to do it at my leisure. I don’t like to be pressured to do it, as a job. That’s why I created the studio in my house, so if I get up at one or two o’clock in the morning, I can go in my next room, put on my earphones and just create at my pace.”
What kinds of music? “I do R&B,” says Ahmad, “I do gospel. I do a little bit of jazz and a lot of rap. Rhythm tracks for rappers. Rap is easy to do; with jazz or gospel, there’s more structure. You have to know harmonic qualities, chords. You have to bridge it.”
His business method is straightforward: “If someone gives me a deadline, I give them my guidelines. Once I hear their lyrics and learn how they want the composition, we discuss and I give them a timeline. I say, ‘Give me a couple of weeks, let me put a rhythm track down.’ Then I produce and engineer and mix it.”
In addition to Strength Entertainment, Ahmad belongs to the Rock Stone Cultural Arts Center in Jamaica, Queens. “It’s a K through 4 program that one of my partners has,” says Ahmad. “We teach kids about music, MIDI production and how the instruments can interface with each other. Teach them how to understand tones and how to mix music.”
Even when he is on-the-go at CEC, on some level he is thinking music. “Everything feeds music,” Ahmad explains. “Every type of sound. You walk in there,” he says, gesturing toward the high-pitched sounds of youngsters milling around in the Hall of Science, “and you have children screaming, and that gives you an idea: ‘I could possibly use that somewhere, just that type of shrill.’ I used to record sounds and change their wave shapes. You have to learn sounds, wave shapes, patterns – every sound has a pattern that you can alter.”
After a job history that included the Association for Energy Affordability (AEA), construction and auditing for Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration, and a car dealership (“Giving my little automotive skills a test”), Ahmad reconnected with Leroy – they had known each other way back — and came to CEC as an auditor. Then Patrick needed an assistant, and now Ahmad is also a construction manager.
“I love the work itself,” he says, “but I like connectivity best. I like to be around a lot of people that I can talk to. Some places you work, like that dealership, people are cold, and you end up finding yourself in your own little box. I don’t like covered boxes, I don’t like closed doors. I interact with everybody.”
“Everybody” includes his children – 27-year-old Dominique, who is a paralegal, and her son, Tyce (“He’s a handful”), and 17-year-old Isaiah, who lives with his mom in North Carolina but this summer hung out with his father in Brooklyn.
“He’s a musician, too,” Ahmad says proudly. “He has a drum set, and he plays the French horn and the trombone in his school band.”
Speaking again of music – has anyone at CEC heard Ahmad play? He says no, because he prefers “putting stuff together on my own.”
“If you’re doing production yourself, I know how I want it to sound. I’ll put a base line to it, a melody to it, maybe some strings, some horns. I can’t argue with myself about the drum track. If you have solo creativity, it’s a beautiful thing.”
There in his studio, among his equipment, is perhaps where the Ahmad who’s always on-the-go finally relaxes into another rhythm. “I like to sit back. I don’t want to do what’s stressful. I do it at my own pace. That’s what I love,” he says.