Posted: Mon Oct 10, 2011 12:16 pm Post subject: Global Ismaili Musical Ensembles
Talented musicians find space to grow in Ismaili Ensembles
The National Ismaili Musical Ensemble in Canada has had the honour of performing before Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: Zahur Ramji
From casual group practices to successful performances at Jamati and public events, the Ismaili Music Ensemble (IME) in the United States and the National Ismaili Musical Ensemble (NIME) in Canada create opportunities for Ismaili musicians from all backgrounds to come together and learn from each other. Whether appealing to professional musicians, students of music education, or talented musicians with a passionate interest, the ensembles provide settings for growth and creative artistic fulfilment.
In the United States, the Ismaili Musical Ensemble is part of the music division of the National Council’s Ismaili Artists Development Program (IADP). The Program seeks to educate Ismaili artists, and expand awareness of the arts within the community.
“Artist education is first,” says Samira Noorali, programme director of IADP. “Performance opportunities are only undertaken to the extent that they further artistic development.” With music as its corner stone, the Program has grown to incorporate dance and fine arts.
The National Ismaili Musical Ensemble in Canada too, seeks to identify, harness, and nurture the talent of artists in the Jamat.“NIME draws on the Canadian Jamat's historical roots and contemporary expressions through the use of music and voice,” explains Azaan Jaffer, project manager of NIME.
Fulfilling a need
For many artists, the presence of a musical ensemble within the community has filled a big void. “This programme provides artists in our community with a platform to create our own work together with other Ismaili fellows,” says Kamal Haji, producer and keyboardist at IME.
The dictionary defines ensemble as a group of complementary parts that contribute to a single effect. In a musical ensemble, a group of musicians, singers, or dancers, perform together in harmony.
Taking full advantage of its members’ creative aspirations, the Ismaili ensembles nurture a culture where group members are encouraged to create original music.
“We go above and beyond our comfort zone,” says Haji, “working together with people from different backgrounds in music, welcoming their input and perspective.”
The Ismaili Musical Ensemble performs a youth concert in the Social Hall of Houston Principal Jamat Khana and Center. Photo: Sohil Maknojia
The US Ensemble’s original compositions blend diverse types of music, the styles and backgrounds of its musicians, and fuse distinctive instruments. Genres vary greatly and draw on the rich array of world music — European classical, Indian classical, contemporary, jazz, blues, rock, and heavy metal influence the Ensemble’s original compositions.
“Cultural fusion, while essential to a pluralistic society, sometimes begins with a sense of confusion,” says Noorali, speaking of Jukebox Time Machine, a chaotic blend of several eras of music history based in heavy metal and tabla. “Our music, generally, is a combination of reality and what we dream,” she adds.
A young group that started with the goal of gaining music education, the Ismaili Musical Ensemble has so far given eight concert performances at US Jamati events, with their public debut at the Houston International Festival (iFest) in Spring of 2011. Each year, Houstonians come together at the event and celebrate with cultural performances, art displays, international food, and vendor stalls. Themed The Silk Road: Journey Across Asia, this year’s iFest spanned two weekends and covered 16-acres of downtown Houston.
“The Houston International Festival’s pluralistic mission is in line with one of IADP's missions,” says Noorali, “which is to promote cultural awareness and tolerance through the arts.”
The National Ismaili Musical Ensemble is also a young but active group, having given eight performances across Canada. In the recent past, it performed at the groundbreaking ceremonies of the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum and their Park in Toronto. The Ensemble has had the honour of performing three times in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam.
“Performing for the Imam and his guests were some of my most memorable experiences of NIME,” says Jaffer. When asked what inspires the ensemble to sustain and flourish, Jaffer answers easily: “Passion for music and expression.”
Room to grow
Both ensembles are open to recruiting Ismaili artists who have some music education or experience and are willing to grow, learn, appreciate, and perform. However, each maintains a rigorous applicant screening and selection process. Rhythmic security, quality of tone and facility with instruments are critical. A candidate’s ability to collaborate with other musicians and demonstrate an ability to improvise is also essential, and provides a competitive edge during the selection process.
“Formal training was an added advantage during the selection process,” said Jaffer about NIME’s previous auditions. “About four of the performers we currently have are pursuing musical careers.”
Pursuing ongoing professional development in music is key to being a part of the musical ensembles. “A requirement of IME is that artists must constantly be improving in order to keep their place in the group,” says Noorali. “All the artists we have are currently either self-teaching or taking lessons with a professional music teacher.”
Though it may seem challenging, the benefits of joining the Ismaili ensembles are well worth the effort. Haji emphasises: “Having something like the ensemble in our community excites me as a musician.”
Members of the Ismaili Musical Ensemble pose for a group photograph following their performance at the Houston International Festival earlier in 2011. Photo: Sohil Maknojia
Ismaili Community Ensemble to celebrate the value of diversity through music and art
Paul Griffiths making music with the Alim Qasimov Ensemble and the Ismaili Community Ensemble. Photo: Naveed OsmanAs the world gets smaller, we are each increasingly touched by peoples of different cultures, traditions and perspectives. Over 14 centuries, the Ismaili Muslim tradition has flourished among the cultures of Central and South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and spread to Europe, North America, Australia and the Far East. The richness of this diversity, like the pluralism of the ummah as a whole, describes the global Jamat as a beautiful mosaic.
In the United Kingdom Ismaili Community Ensemble (ICE) takes diversity to heart — both in the origins of its musicians and the music that they compose. The Ensemble is well known for its collaborative performances with groups from different countries, faiths and musical traditions. It sees difference as a natural and positive concept.
Making an impact
Hussein Meghji offers encouragement to fellow ICE musician Ali Jivraj. Photo: Naveed OsmanEstablished in 2007 to mark the commemoration of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee, the Ensemble is a success story that, in the past five years, has already made a remarkable impact on the lives of those involved with it. For example, Khalil Osman joined ICE age 12 as a drummer. Now, 16 years old, a large part of his formative years involved music making with the Ensemble.
“I was reluctant to join at first, as it was all quite intimidating,” he recalls. “A lot of the people were older than me.” But joining ICE turned out to be a welcoming experience, and the group bonded quickly during the first few weeks.
“ICE is a constructive way to spend my time. It has taught me teamwork, commitment, music, people skills, performance skills and has been good for self-confidence. It sounds really clichéd but ICE has become a part of my life,” says Osman.
Durri Zahi and Noureen Lakhani work together with a Rubab. Photo: Naveed OsmanTanya Sayani was 11 when she joined ICE last year, as a violinist grade 3. In her second year, she is extremely positive about her experience: “It’s not a boring orchestra, you’re involved in the music making,” she says.
“In the first year, I tried to play as well as I could, other violinists helped me and the musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra sometimes stayed during lunch break to help me. This year things are a bit easier, I’m not as nervous, I’m more confident.”
In part, that confidence comes from the signature concert that ICE performs each year. As it prepares for its upcoming edition in January 2012, the group has found resonance with the values of the forthcoming London 2012 Olympic Games. Titled Celebrating Diversity, the concert will explore the notion of pluralism in society through the medium of music. Olympic values such as celebrating cultural diversity, inspiring and involving young people, and leaving a positive legacy in London through social cohesion and cultural participation are shared by the Ensemble and have influenced the music it has created for the event.
The Ismaili Community Ensemble will perform “Celebrating Diversity” at Cadogan Hall in London on Saturday, 28 January 2012. Copyright: Ismaili Community Ensemble UK
This year ICE will collaborate and perform with two very special musical groups, while maintaining and building on its longstanding relationship with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The first collaborator is a group of musicians from the Orpheus Centre, a unique residential performing arts centre. Created in 1998 by popular entertainer Richard Stilgoe, the Centre enables young disabled people to use the performing arts as a vehicle to develop their skills for independent living. Alongside musicians from the Orpheus Centre, ICE musicians will take part in two music making workshops, culminating in a unique musical conversation portrayed both on and off stage.
The second collaborator is a composer, producer and artist; Niraj Chag. He is one of the key modern interpreters of Asian classical and folk styles developing his style over the years whilst working on musicals, scores and dance productions. He has also released two successful albums: Along the Dusty Road and The Lost Souls. He has permitted ICE to adapt one of his tracks and build on it, incorporating his unique style and valuable experience as a professional musician into the Ensemble’s music making process.
Members of Morley College Chamber Choir and vocalists from the Ismaili Community Ensemble exxhange ideas. Photo: Naveed OsmanDr Carolyn Landau is a researcher examining the nature and role of music-making for different Muslim communities in London. A Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Music at King’s College London, she has been observing the Ismaili Community Ensemble since 2010.
“As an ethnomusicologist, part of what I do is to get involved with the music-making that I’m researching in order to understand as much as possible about all aspects of music-making,” she explains. “So for ICE, this includes how the music is composed, what it’s like to be part of ICE at rehearsals and concerts, and what ICE means to its members in the broader context of their everyday lives.”
An oboe player herself, she asked to be part of the Ensemble this year. “I’m beginning to understand how the characteristic ‘ICE sound’ is produced – through hard work (as well as lots of fun!) at long rehearsals and with impressive dedication from each member of ICE – and the important role that ICE plays in the lives of its members, musically, socially and spiritually.”
Lens of diversity
Learning an mentoring are an important part of the Ensemble. Here Ruth Currie from the Royal Philharmonic Ochestra works with Reanna Jamal, an ICE musician. Photo: Naveed OsmanComplementing the Ensemble’s music making, a photographic art initiative was introduced last year. Eleven participants took part in two photography workshops covering technical aspects of using digital SLR cameras, composition skills and introducing photo editing software.
The group included beginners and those with considerable photography expertise. Participants were encouraged to reflect on their personal experiences of diversity in the UK, how they might capture this in a visual image, and what they would like their work to achieve. Finished artwork will be exhibited at the concert venue where ICE will be performing.
Be uplifted by the intertwining sounds of the sitar and the guitar, the piano and the percussion, the bass and the bansuri. Experience harmonious melodies of the voice, conversing with the drums, and listen for the response of the flute as the oboe calls.
As the world gets smaller, we are regularly touched by a plethora of cultures, peoples and lifestyles.
The Ismaili Community Ensemble (ICE) will draw from a range of cultures, merging East with West and the traditional with the contemporary.
Taking inspiration from the London Olympics 2012, ICE will join together with composer and producer Niraj Chag, musicians from the Orpheus Centre, a performing arts centre for young disabled adults, and members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to explore the notion of pluralism in the society in which we live through the medium of music. The performance will be accompanied by a photographic exhibition reflecting this theme.
Celebrating Diversity promises to be a heart-warming experience for all.
RPO resound – Ismaili Community Ensemble
Posted on 3 February, 2012 by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Community and Education Assistant Hannah Taylor writes about RPO resound’s latest project with the Ismaili Community Ensemble.
This year’s education projects have got off to a flying start. In our first project of 2012, regular RPO resound partners, the Ismaili Community Ensemble (ICE), under the leadership of Paul Griffiths have been involved in not one but two separate collaborations!
Firstly, Composer Niraj Chag shared one of his compositions, called Kanya, with ICE. With the help of Paul and the RPO resound musicians, the ensemble arranged and adapted the piece to suit their different strengths and ideas.
Secondly, the ensemble engaged in a series of visits to the Orpheus Centre – an organisation dedicated to providing disabled over 18s with performing arts opportunities and preparing them for future responsibilities. RPO resound musicians and ICE members worked together with students at Orpheus and Paul to create a fantastic new piece that brought together musical ideas from everyone involved.
Ismaili Community Ensemble and Orpheus Centre musicians
Of course there was time for ICE to work on their own material too. Taking London’s multiculturalism as a starting point in the very first session, suggestions were flying from every corner of the room as the ensemble brainstormed some ideas by listing the sorts of sounds one hears when travelling through different areas of London. Once rehearsals got underway, the creation of music progressed organically and continually until the very end.
The culmination of the project took place on Saturday 28th January at Cadogan Hall, featuring the music of each of the different partners in this busy term of work. Though the members of Orpheus were not able to be with us on the day, they were certainly there in spirit when ICE performed their composition in its entirety. All the pieces went down a storm and the ensemble received a standing ovation from the audience, with the performers eagerly playing an encore: a carnival-style piece that gradually increases in speed until the final two bars are exploding with excitement.
We look forward to further opportunities to collaborate with all these different groups in future months.
A project dedicated to encouraging cultural awareness and community spirit
Our projects with the Ismaili Community Ensemble are so successful that RPO Resound has partnered up with the Ismaili Community Ensemble annually for the past five years! Each concert has been extremely entertaining and shows off the talents and creative prowess of the musicians involved. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra workshop leader Paul Griffiths has expertly led the ensemble each year, and always fosters brilliant results in the ensemble.
This year’s theme for creative inspiration was Celebrating London's Diversity, so the music explored ideas of the different styles of music you can hear when walking around London.
This year's project involved two great collaborations: one with a well-known composer called Niraj Chag. And another with the Orpheus Centre - an organisation designed to prepare disabled over 18s for general life by involving them in performing arts projects. Both collaborations meant that this year's ICE was a extremely unique concert. Niraj Chag gave the ensemble one of his compositions to adapt and perform, while a song written in sessions with the members of Orpheus was performed as part of the final number.
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