There are very few voices that are a combination of force and subtlety - Natasha Baig.....
There are very few voices that are a combination of force and subtlety - Natasha Baig has that voice. Hailing from the scenic valley of Hunza, Baig was an athlete, playing under-19 cricket as an off-spin bowler in district matches. Unable to pursue her passion for sports, Baig turned her attention to music. “I started singing when I was about to leave cricket. I played my final under-19 representing Karachi in 2010 and I used to entertain my team mates by singing songs and used to make them sing along. Even in my childhood when my singing ability was undiscovered, people used to compliment my voice but I never paid attention, until I left sports and was left with nothing but music,” shares Baig.
Huse Madhavji is best known for his roles on HBO Canada’s “Call Me Fitz” and CTV’s hit hospital drama “Saving Hope”. Prior to that, Huse was the face of Star! (now E! Canada) where he sat down with some of the worlds most familiar faces. He now lives in LA, working the stand-up/improv circuit while touring the U.S. as a vocalist for “Stories: Our American Journey”, telling the Ismaili Muslim story in America.
It was already 10 ‘o’ clock at night by the time I wrapped up my conversation with Aziz Jindani. More than three hours had gone by and we both ended up missing appointments. Jindani’s personal journey, and his reasons to get into filmmaking, had ended up being far more involving than most motion pictures.
Jindani is the director, producer and writer of The Donkey King (DK) — an animated film whose premise is literally encapsulated in the title (a ‘donkey’ becomes ‘king’). Unlike other filmmakers (or maybe like every other Pakistani filmmaker), Jindani knows little about the technicalities of screenwriting, or direction. Things just came together like he envisioned, he tells me. It’s probably because he has a very talented director of animation, he adds later.
Afraaz Mulji (19) is a passionate musician and curator, also known as Maestro Mi. After learning across Tanzania, India and Canada, he has played at various world renown venues such as the Roy Thompson Hall and Notre Dam. Vijana FM asked Afraaz five questions.
Two young Ismaili musicians have been making waves on Pakistan's pop music scene, excelling on the most coveted and respected music platforms in the country. Natasha Baig's soulful voice has made a mark on Coke Studio Season 11 while Asfar Hussain's band won this year's Pepsi Battle of the Bands.
I get chills when people say I’m a mini Abida Parveen: Natasha Baig
“Oh my God! You’re a different animal on stage!” exclaimed Ali Hamza, according to Natasha Baig, when he saw a clip of one of her concerts, moments before he and co-producer Zohaib Kazi told her she had been selected for the current season of Coke Studio.
Standing at only 5’1” the singer is a petite person with a big voice. She seems somewhat meek and demure in person, but when she stands in front of a microphone she is completely transformed — every look, gesture, expression perfectly synchronised with her powerhouse vocals, she owns her performance and the audience. And she appears tall, very tall.
After years of struggling, Natasha Baig finally got her big break. She opened the season of the popular music show with a collaboration with Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad Qawwal on an improvised version of Allama Iqbal’s Shikwa — she was doing the Shikwa part and she held her own against what is arguably Pakistan’s preeminent qawwal group.
Mohamed Assani- Drishti Awards 2018
BY ISMAILIMAIL POSTED ON OCTOBER 30, 2018
This year’s Drishti Awards gala was held on Friday October 26, 2018 in Surrey, British Columbia. Mohamed Assani was awarded Drishti Awards for ‘Innovation in Arts’ for his years of innovative body of work and enduring contribution to Arts.
Mohamed shared this joyous news with his fans and well wishers on his FB page
“Happy and honoured to receive the Drishti Award for ‘Innovation in Arts’ on Friday. I am very grateful to a community around me who offers so much support and encouragement. Thanks to the whole Drishti Awards team and Nawal Tandon Sahab.”
“Explorations of the Absurd” by Afraaz Mulji
BY ISMAILIMAIL POSTED ON NOVEMBER 7, 2018
The highest attainment this album seeks to inspire, is the ultimate liberation and enlightenment that occurs when you simply “let go”. When you Abandon all attachments and then simply exist in a sacred space. A space which provides total freedom and safety for the experiments and explorations I undertook. I hope the music allows you to find and exist in this safe space. A space of Infinite possibilities.
“Explorations of the Absurd: Proceed with Gusto, Panache, Abandon.” is an Album which seeks to articulate a beautiful, strange, wilful reality which is the product of Mulji’s imagination. The album is not totally a work of fiction however, it seeks to express a perspective of wonder generated from the pursuit of artistic endeavour which derives from the sheer joy of living a life of constant search and pursuing spiritual freedom.
Afraaz is gearing up for a workshop titled ” The Art of Improving and Creative Freethinking” that he will conduct for Dar-es-Salaam Jamat in November of 2018. This initiative is supported by ITREB and IYSC. He will also be guest speaking at University of Dar-es-Salaam on November 15, 2018 on the topic of “How to listen: Bearing witness to the struggles of the Human condition”
Hussein Janmohamed is a dynamic choral conductor, composer and community music educator. He has performed with some of Canada's finest choirs including Chor Leoni Men's Choir, Laudate Singers, and the National Youth Choir of Canada. Hussein is recognized as a leader in choral music for community building, cultural development and inspirational leadership. He is the co-founder of the Vancouver & Canadian Ismaili Muslim Youth Choirs. He has conducted choirs for audiences across Canada and in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan and Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. Hussein's choral compositions, which have been premiered by eminent choirs, reflect a diversity of expression inspired by the Muslim world.
November 5th, 2011. University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Filmed by Craig Ross: Video edited by David Ng
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)
Rizwan Manji is best known for playing Rajiv, the hysterically officious, scheming assistant manager of a call center in the NBC comedy OUTSOURCED, part of the network’s prestigious Thursday night comedy lineup. This groundbreaking TV show was the first American sitcom to be based in India and feature a predominantly Indian cast. Rizwan has also appeared on many popular TV shows including GLEE, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, ANOTHER PERIOD, WITHOUT A TRACE, 24, NCIS, BONES, PRIVIL EGED, and BETTER OFF TED. Other memorable credits include THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, THE DICTATOR, TRANSFORMERS, and the critically acclaimed film PATERSON. Currently, Rizwan can be seen on the Pop TV sitcom SCHITT’S CREEK, SyFy’s THE MAGICIANS, USA’s MR. ROBOT and ROB RIGGLE’S SKI MASTER ACADEMY.
NEW MUSIC! Really excited to share a new collaboration with you, "Chehra Tera" - my first full track in Hindi! The journey for this song began many months ago to express that which cannot always be said in words.
Ali Maula - Kurbaan | Salim Sulaiman Live | Jubilee Concert Mumbai
This is the live version of one of our most special songs ‘Ali Maula’ from the film ‘Kurbaan’, that we performed at the Jubilee Concert held in Mumbai on the 3rd of March, 2018. Also featuring Raj Pandit, Sattar Khan, Vipul Mehta & Nobovar.
Music: Salim - Sulaiman
Lyrics: Irfan Siddiqui
Singers: Salim Merchant, Vipul Mehta, Raj Pandit, Sattar Khan, Nobovar (Tajikistan)
Mixed & Mastered by: Aftab Khan at Blue Productions
Nimet was born in Nairobi, Kenya and began acting on stage with the local theatre company. She emigrated to Vancouver, Canada in 1989 where she continued to work on stage. She began her career in film and TV in 2001 and has had the pleasure of working with Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica), Kevin Sorbo (Paradox), and John Cusack (Martian Child).
Awarded 'The Peoples Choice Award' for her theatrical performance in the one woman show 'The Yellow Wallpaper'.
Sterling Award nomination for Best Ensemble Cast in Heather Raffo's "9 Parts of Desire " (Stage). 
Jessie Award nomination for Best Actor in Anusree Roy's "Sultans of the Street " (Stage). 
Walid Ehssan – HEARTist: Bonne Anniversaire Hazar Imam
BY ISMAILIMAIL POSTED ON DECEMBER 9, 2018
Bonne Anniversaire Mawlana Hazir Imam
I saw a little flower blossoming in the harsh winter and it was as if I saw You
I saw a piece of glass in the sun, twinkling like the brightest star and I thought of You
I felt a gentle breeze over my face and I felt You
Thank you for being ever present
Written Fami Faani
Thanks Samira Sultani Fawad Saadat Ehssan Fawad
Thank you Hussein Janmohamed and all the Ismaili musicians from around the world for such a Soulful music
Adil Amirali Jivani from Gujarat, India is a Sales and Marketing professional in the Medical equipments and consumables field. Currently residing in Abu Dhabi for the last 4 years, Adil started singing in his junior year of college in India. Since than, he has participated in many different events within India and overseas. Devoted volunteer within community, Adil teaches Ginan to students of diverse age group. While singing is his passion, he also likes to write Poems.
How Ismaili Artist Romana Kassam's Desire For Christmas Created 'Khumas'
She begged her parents to celebrate Christmas, and they begrudgingly compromised.
A striking portrait of a Muslim woman draped in a red and green shalwar kameez is in full display in a window at Toronto's Metro Convention Centre. The woman stands before an Ismaili flag as salt from two shakers trickles onto her head, almost like a tiny, concentrated snowfall.
"She's an immigrant Muslim woman, dressed up for Khushali," said the artist Romana Kassam. "She's standing very defenceless. The salt represents colonization: the price you pay to fit into a new country, to become part of this multicultural mosaic, which is a beautiful thing but sometimes it can come at a cost. We [immigrants] come here and we're so open and vulnerable, almost like an open wound. And then the "salt" [the overarching North American culture], can seep into our skin and can burn."
Kassam, an Ismaili Toronto-based artist, knows this duality all too well. And her artwork, which she was commissioned to paint by a local agency to auction off to raise money for the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto, is a full circle moment for Kassam.
Born to Ismaili parents who immigrated from Tanzania in the 1970s, Kassam spent her early upbringing in Thorncliffe Park, an east Toronto neighbourhood with a predominant Ismaili community. Ismailis are Shia Muslims who live in over 25 countries, scattered across the globe.
Kassam felt very comfortable in Thorncliffe Park, where she was surrounded by familiar faces and could easily speak Kachi, her parent's mother tongue, which is a Gujarati dialect.
A young Romana Kassam getting ready to perform at the Thorncliffe Khushali Variety show in 1989.
"We felt safe in Thorncliffe," she said. "All of our neighbours were Ismailis. There was a mall across from us and going there felt like going to Jamatkhana [a place of worship for Ismailis]."
She and other Ismaili children would learn cultural traditions and dances such as Raas, or Dandiya Raas, a traditional folk dance from Gujarat and Rajasthan India that were hosted inside her public school after hours.
She would perform these dances during annual Khushali celebrations — the most important day of the Ismaili calendar year.
Khushali is the celebration of the birthday of the Ismaili communities' living Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan. Every December 13th, Ismailis gather in a Jamatkhana (colloquially known as Khane) to celebrate the Aga Khan.
"We'd put on our fanciest clothes and everyone would congregate in their respective Khane," said Kassam. "We'd put on a variety show, dance Dandiya Raas and eat biriyani and cake, and drink sharbat and chai. It was the one time of the year that you knew everyone in the community was going to make an appearance."
From left to right, Romana Kassam and her twin sister Shezin Kassam are dressed and ready to celebrate Khushali in 1986.
But that all changed when she was seven years old and her family moved to Markham, Ont., a suburb north of Toronto that lacked the same diversity as Thorncliffe Park in the early 1980s.
Kassam said she was one of two ethnic kids in her class in Markham, which was a very isolating experience.
"I felt different, I felt the contrast. I went from being able to speak my language in class to no one being able to relate to Kachi," said the artist. "The only other ethnic girl in my class became my best friend."
And it was here where Kassam's desire to fit in prompted her to implore her parents to celebrate Christmas — something the family had not done previously.
"In Grade 2, when we moved to Markham, everyone was celebrating Christmas," said the now 34-year-old. "I begged my parents to buy me a Christmas tree. We needed to have the tree to belong.
She said her parents were rather reluctant to give into her Christmas wishes, but compromised by buying her and her twin sister a tiny desktop tree. The decorations had to be red and green, which are the colours of the Ismaili flag, noted Kassam.
Their family's new tradition, begrudgingly celebrated by her parents, turned into "Khumas" — an amalgamation of Christmas and Khushali. Her parents agreed to put up Christmas lights, but only in red and green colours, and their "Khumas" tree would go up on Dec. 1 and be taken down after Khushali on Dec.13.
Romana Kassam ready for Khushali in 1990.
"Our Khushali gifts were given to us by 'Mowla Bapa' [a devotional term referencing the Aga Khan] and not Santa, but were wrapped in Christmas paper. And we'd be allowed to open them on Dec. 13 every year," she said. "When kids at school would ask what I got for Christmas, I wouldn't tell them I opened my gifts on Dec. 13 and that we didn't celebrate Christmas. I just wanted to fit in."
She spent those first years in Markham still attending Khane and performing traditional dances. But as she transitioned into her teen years, her desire to fit in and honour her own developing tastes and personality grew, and she found that celebrating her ethnic culture and traditions started to weigh on her.
More from HuffPost Canada:
Happy Khushali: A Celebration of 57 Years of Imamat (Religious Leadership) of His Highness, the Aga Khan.
6 Post-Ramadan Lessons From A Pair Of Mediocre Muslims
'Born And Raised' Podcast: How Food Shapes 2nd-Generation Canadians' Identities
"By Grade 8, I didn't want to wear Indian clothes and or do the dances. I was into hip hop and R&B by then," she said. "As I got older, I rebelled. One year, I staged a coup during Khushali and brought other kids with me to dance to [the hip-hop song] 'No Diggity.' We wore baggy clothes, and dark lipstick, the whole nine."
During those years, Kassam struggled to identify where she belonged. Her family would celebrate Khushali and she'd rush home from school to get ready for those celebrations if Dec. 13 fell on a week day. But then her school would break for two weeks at Christmas — which her family didn't celebrate. It didn't seem right to her.
"I remember feeling so bored on Christmas Day because we didn't celebrate," she said. "But then when my cultural celebrations would take place, we'd have to rush home from school to attend all the festivities. We didn't get time off school. I remember feeling so annoyed. Like, did we even matter in this country?"
Romana Kassam standing next to her art work outside the Toronto Metro Convention Centre on Khushali on Dec. 13, 2018.
Now an adult, Kassam has grown to realize that she does in fact matter to this country, while also understanding the importance of Khushali and her culture and identity.
"While I recognize the need to belong, I also know now the importance of honouring my own traditions and culture," said Kassam. "Unlike in the '70s and '80s when our parents first immigrated, when we were willing to do whatever it took to fit in, our stories are now finally being profiled, our traditions are being acknowledged, and it's our responsibility to honour and share it. So now, I celebrate Khushali as Khushali and that's good enough. More than good enough."
Listen: Our podcast, "Born & Raised: Food," tells stories of food and family from second-gen Canadians. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts. Story continues below.
Joelysa’s original scores have been celebrated in theatres across Canada for over a decade. As a composer, musical director and percussionist, her versatile abilities have taken her into the worlds of theatre, film, animation, and more recently, writing her own musicals.
In the realm of theatre, Joelysa’s unique composing and musical directing style have earned her multiple awards and nominations for a variety of categories ranging from Outstanding Composition, Best New Play and Outstanding Artistic Achievements. A seasoned professional in her field, Joelysa has musical directed casts of up to 150 members and composed original scores for over 30 productions, most of which she also musical directed.
In the realms of film and animation, Joelysa was recently nominated for a Leo Award for her score for the dramatic short Hop The Twig that won CBC’s Short Film Face Off (5th season). One of her more recent string scores for documentary film is featured in the stunning Cry Rock, by Smayaykila Films that continues to tour film festivals across Canada and the United States.
Throughout her career, Joelysa has earned the reputation of a prolific composer with the ability to weave her own whimsical and melancholic sound into any genre of music she tackles. Always on the lookout for exciting challenges, Joelysa’s newest musical is currently in development (with generous support from the Canada Council).
Rihla: from Roots to Dreams entertains audiences across Canada
Audience members at Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall were taken on a musical journey as Rihla: from Roots to Dreams completed its cross-Canada performance tour on 21 December 2018.
The show, featuring four main elements – dance, music, drama, and film – was based on the Canadian Ismaili community's journey from Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah’s Diamond Jubilee in 1946 to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee in 2017.
Rihla: from Roots to Dreams made stops in Ottawa, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton from September to December, before the finale in Calgary.
“I literally Googled, ‘What’s the word for journey in Arabic,’ and Rihla came up,” said producer-director Azim Keshavjee, explaining how he and the team came up with its title.
In order to explore the Canadian Jamat’s movement from where it was in 1946 to where they have settled today, one of the challenges faced by the show’s creators was how best to capture the inherent and wide diversity that exists within the community.
Featuring performances including Tajik, East African, and South Asian dances, Farsi, Swahili, Indian, and English songs, Rihla overcame the challenge, tying it all together with an entertaining storyline in which the audience follows along on Laila’s countdown to 11 July 2017.
Laila, a young Canadian Ismaili, has been asked to sing for the Jamat on 11 July, and struggles with the choice of pursuing her passion. Her husband Karim, a converted Ismaili, and her hilarious nanimaa (grandmother) both urge her to pursue her dreams. Meanwhile her Afghan Ismaili friend Farahnaz and her family reminisce about their own harrowing journey to the country they now call home.
Zaheed Damani, Rihla’s playwright and director of multimedia, spoke about the creative process behind the show.
“It really was a journey of discovery,” Damani explained. “We grew, we got ideas from the artists themselves, and it naturally evolved until we had this, which really is a representation of the Jamat.”
Alongside Keshavjee and Damani, Rihla’s creative team also included Shereen Ladha, Al-Waez Karim Dewji, Munir Boodhwani, and Sophia Virani.
“We started with three objectives,” Damani said. “We were hoping the production would inspire gratitude for being Canadian, pride for being Ismaili, and an unflinching belief that the Imam’s hand has always been on our shoulder.”
Damani has been amazed by the feedback he and the Rihla team have received on the show so far.
“Many commented that it was one particular video clip, word, picture, single note or dance move that really took them back,” he said.
“The message we keep getting is ‘you brought us back and we experienced things we never thought the Jamat went through’.”
Damani also explained that Rihla: from Roots to Dreams is by no means the conclusion of the journey for the Jamat.
“At the end of the show we say this is a journey we are continuing to write together,” Damani explained, looking to the future.
“Sixty years from now, what we are doing today is Inshallah what our families and friends are going to reflect back on, so we have a responsibility to continue bearing that torch and that light that has been given to us.”
Sitting with a celebrated musician, talking about his journey and listening to his experiences can be an exhilarating/ electrifying experience in itself. From being an inspiration to many to talking about his previous hits and giving his take on different genres of music, presenting A. R. Rahman being completely candid and i conversation with me.
Composers Amin Bhatia and Ari Posner have been nominated for a 2019 Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Music, Fiction for the Northwood Production (CBC) ANNE WITH AN E.
Now in its second season, music composers Amin Bhatia and Ari Posner are thoroughly enjoying the challenges and opportunities that come from working under the direction of creator Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad, Flesh and Bone) and producer Miranda de Pencier (Grizzlies).
This particular episode “I Protest Against Any Absolute Conclusion” was a mammoth undertaking involving the multiple talents of the cast, crew, and writers as the town of Green Gables puts on a Christmas Pantomime.
"...a powerful force and
the gravity of Divine Love
will rip and pull
from you rself
you will no longer exist
now only remains
the Real Self
countless circles of love - arif gowani
Poetry book focuses on self-realization of the inner strengths of oneself and of the Divine.This poetry is written in such a way, that each reader will feel the direct conversation with the Divine.To be touched and to feel the joy, you must read this poetry with an open heart and welcome inside the Divine Love.The Divine you know and believe in, will be your own Guide.
Cultural connections: How Ismailis in the United States are influencing music
What is your first memory of music? Can you remember a time when you were so engrossed in a musical compilation that you forgot where you were physically? Many members of the Jamat use music as a connection to their heritage, their upbringing, and their community. In this article we will explore some of their stories.
Improvising with a fusion of cultural influences
Rafiq Bhatia’s first memory of music is falling asleep to his grandmother singing ginans. As he grew up, Bollywood music exposed him to the sound of his heritage, stemming from India and East Africa. It didn’t hurt that music was also a genetic component — his maternal grandfather was a violinist, and his maternal aunts were vocalists. With a supportive family, music may have come as a natural choice for him, but he wanted to break the mould, and produce something unique.
Rafiq did just that. The New York Times described him as “a guitarist who refuses to be pinned to one genre, culture or instrument.” Merging traditional Indian and East African influences with jazz, rock and electronic sounds, he has earned his recognition as, “one of the most intriguing figures in music today.”
But the journey wasn’t seamless. Recognizing that a career in music can be a gamble, Rafiq equipped himself with degrees in economics and neuroscience from New York University and Oberlin College. The latter is where he was “discovered” by legendary jazz drummer Billy Hart, leading to collaborations with jazz pianists and composers Vijay Iyer and David Virelles, and drummer Marcus Gilmore.
What continues to set Rafiq apart though, is his resistance to be described as a certain “type” of musician. His three albums, Strata, Yes It Will, and Broken English (released in 2018), show a story of evolution — one that follows not a linear path, but rather, a cultural one.
Now, playing as a trio and performing in over 300 shows around the world, they have attracted a global following. Their music was described by the Wall Street Journal as "thrilling... an ideal synthesis of contemporary forms," while National Public Radio described them as “the world's most lethal band.”
Rafiq has also worked with Ismaili musicians in the past, and was particularly excited about the renewed focus on music during the Diamond Jubilee.
Modern devotional music and poetry
Fez Meghani was a “late bloomer” in his musical journey, and only started singing at the age of 12. He was deterred in his path by an orchestra teacher who told him to pursue other passions, since he wasn’t “good at music.” That was Fez’s trigger for pushing himself even harder. Within weeks, he was playing music by ear, and by 17, he was penning his own songs. As a new immigrant to the US, Fez used music as a way to express his loneliness, and find connections to a new culture. But by the time he reached his 20s and matured as a musician, Fez discovered his true calling: devotional music and poetry.
Poetry turned to songs, which turned into albums, which turned into concerts, and global tours. Along the way, Fez formed what would become one of the most popular Ismaili bands around the world — The Sufistics — comprised of long-time musical collaborators Aftab Ali, Pervaiz Mirza, and Imran Boodhwani.
“My dad was my biggest motivation, and my mom, my biggest proponent. As I started performing, audiences became my drive," said Fez. He added: "People latch on to the expressive nature of the Sufistics' lyrics, and are moved by them. And that inspires me to continue creating new music.”
Over the course of the last 22 years, Fez has produced seven albums, comprising over 100 songs on spirituality, love, expressions of faith, and search for the Divine. Together, the Sufistics have performed around the country and the world, with audiences of over 30,000 people, including at the Special Olympics held in Los Angeles in 2015. They are best known for their Golden and Diamond Jubilee albums, A Golden Sunrise, and Diamonds In the Sky, respectively. They also performed in Malaysia for Her Majesty the Queen.
Said Fez, “What motivates me the most is the way young members of our Jamat articulate their feelings to me. As someone who is not so young anymore, this is one of the best ways for me to continue writing content that is inspiring, and that can connect with the youth.”
Fez travels around the nation speaking at conferences, conducting workshops, and facilitating sessions on the role, diversity, and impact of music in Islam.
Music over law
Samira Noorali was only five when she realised her passion for singing was more than a hobby. By eight, she was in a choir, and began private lessons focused on classical music. By age 15, she had private lessons in opera, and her classical Indian musical training continued.
Although she obtained a degree in law, it was music that was her true calling.
“I am glad for that period of my life, when I was a lawyer. I learned and grew from it, but came back to what I feel I'm made for,” Samira said. That experience also taught her that careers can be fluid. “A career is not an open and shut case,” said Samira. “You just do what you like best, and what allows you to serve best. And, it's alright to do multiple things at once.”
In 2010, Samira became the executive director of the Ismaili Artists Development Program, based in Houston, that aims to raise awareness about the arts within the Ismaili community. She served as music director for a 12-15 piece ensemble which performed newly composed material, as well as their own arrangements of popular songs and traditional material.
Samira was honored to be a part of the ensemble that performed during the procession at Aiglemont, during Mawlana Hazar Imam's Diamond Jubilee Homage Ceremony on 11 July 2017. That opportunity opened other doors for her. She went on to co-write and co-compose “With Heart With Love,” an official song for the Diamond Jubilee.
As part of the US Diamond Jubilee's arts and culture initiative, Samira was the playwright, musical director, and primary composer for Stories: Our American Journey, a theatrical production that toured the US in 2018 to great acclaim from the Jamat. She has also recorded with Salim-Sulaiman, and served as part of their backup choir during a concert in Toronto.
For Samira, the opportunities seem to be connected and constantly evolving. From her participation in Stories, Samira met a fellow Ismaili artist, Farah Alwani, with whom she is creating and releasing a debut musical album through her company Sitare Production. She is also now delving into writing. She has written screenplays and fiction, and has published an illustrated poetry book, A Simple Rebirth, that explores grief, recovery, and what it means to be a woman in our evolving world.
Carnegie Hall debut for a teen
Rida Ali’s music journey is only just beginning. The 15-year-old high school sophomore had a varied start with music.
“I sang Mamma Mia by Abba in front of parents and children for my kindergarten talent show. Having a solo in front of that many people terrified me, and I had no interest in being in any music program.”
It wasn’t until fifth grade that Rida returned to music and joined the Young People’s Chorus (YPC) of New York City.
“I resisted a lot at first, and hated it my first year,” she said, but added, “As the second year came, I became more interested in the music we sang, especially since a lot of the sounds were in different languages, such as Spanish, French, and even Czech.”
Rida was hooked and fully committed to what would be an arduous schedule: non-stop rehearsals and concerts, and balancing school and homework. But with hard work, also comes fantastic rewards. YPC has performed on Broadway, the Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall, among other venerated locations in New York City.
“The first time I performed at Carnegie Hall, I was taken aback by how many seats and balconies there were. I had only performed at a small concert hall in YMCA before,” Rida recalled. As hundreds of people started to pile in and the noise of chatter grew, she began to understand the volume of her performance. It was also the moment she knew she “would never quit no matter how hard it got.”
It is too early for Rida to decide if there’s a career in music ahead for her. The one thing she is certain of is the need for balance between academia and creativity.
“Make sure you prioritize school work, but still balance it with the arts, whether it be music, or anything else,” Rida advised. For now, she continues to prepare for her next concert.
Nobovar and Shams Band amplify musical heritage of Badakhshan
For communities residing among the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan, music is part of everyday life, appreciated and practiced at every opportunity. On 28 March 2019, Nobovar Chanorov and the Shams group of music artists shared a medley of Pamiri sounds to an enthralled audience at the Ismaili Centre, London.
In conjunction with the Embassy of the Republic of Tajikistan, the event hosted at the Ismaili Centre represented one in a series of musical events to have taken place this year, each of which have celebrated the diversity of artistic expression, from various regions around the world.
Nobovar Chanorov is one of the most well-known and celebrated musicians of Tajikistan. He grew up in the village of Dehrushan in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, and started singing maddoh and playing music from a young age. Nobovar experimented with different instruments and singing styles, and eventually graduated as an actor.
Today, his music group the Shams Band are known for their fusion of ancient music and poetry of the East with contemporary music of the West. Through their compositions and performances, the group endeavour to preserve the ancient cultural and musical traditions of Tajikistan.
At a time when strengthening tolerance and embracing difference is a global priority, music can offer an exciting medium for reaching and involving various audiences from all corners of the globe.
At their performance on stage in the Ismaili Centre’s social hall, Nobovar and the Shams group weaved together the sounds of traditional musical instruments including the rubab, sethor, Indian tabla, Tajik tjavak and doira with modern instruments such as electric guitar, drum, and saxophone. Many of the songs performed were inspired by the prose of historical poets and philosophers of the Middle East and Central Asia, including Rumi, Hafiz, Rudaki, and Hilali.
Having performed at concerts in their home country as well as in Russia, Western Europe, the United States, Afghanistan, and India, the band have gained tremendous experience and inspiration for new songs and instrumental compositions.
Shams are particularly popular in Tajikistan, having been granted numerous awards and prizes for their creativity and innovative style. In 2002, the group travelled through Europe and the USA as part of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s Silk Road Ensemble tour alongside renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and other distinguished scholars, musicians, and artists from around the world.
More recently, the group performed in front of large audiences at the Jubilee Games held in Dubai in 2016, and at the Diamond Jubilee Celebration in Lisbon in 2018.
Pakistan Jamat nurtures up and coming music artists
In Pakistan, music is a form of cultural expression representing society’s values, traditions, and hopes for the future. From mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan in the North to Karachi on the Southern coast, people have a deep relationship with music and other forms of art.
Zia ul Karim
Twenty-four-year-old Zia ul Karim is the first graduate from Hunza Valley to receive a bachelor’s degree in Musicology from the prestigious National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore. Adept at multiple instruments, an expert in classical and folk music, and with a special interest in composition, Karim is committed to exploring the relationship between music and culture.
“Never in war or conflict can a community focus on its musical traditions,” said Zia. “Music for me therefore, is a symbol of peace, positive thinking, care, understanding, and a means to unity.”
Narrating his personal journey Zia said, “I am the first musician in my family. Though they had certain reservations about me pursuing a career in music, which was unheard of and seen as a hobby, I knew where my heart was.” Zia continued, “My family wanted me to follow more traditional subjects like law or engineering. One thing I knew from early on: music gave meaning to my life.” Zia’s interest in music developed as a boy scout when he learned to play the flute. A quick learner, he soon became widely known and appreciated for his talent.
His music is primarily aligned with mystical themes and philosophies of personal devotion. “I am interested in bridge music,” Karim explained. “Classical is a very pure form of music. People connect deeply to a form of fusion, which proves that diverse musical forms are also inclusive in nature.”
Zia is currently exploring western fusion. He has formed a band, along with four other musicians from Hunza. The band’s name is “Jiill,” which means “to rise” in the local language Burushaski. Their most recent song is a hip-hop track called “Gunahgar” or “sinner”.
As a multi-instrumentalist, Zia enjoys playing traditional instruments including the rubab, zarbuka, flute, and percussion instruments. He mentioned how Yanni, a Greek composer and his musical role model, inspired him to start playing the violin as well.
“Xhighini is a local instrument that is very famous in Hunza,” said Zia. “I have worked extensively on the reinvention, revival, and preservation of this instrument. I used to play folk music on the xhinghini but have now started playing classical music on it as well.”
Many people in the region had a negative view of a career in music. Initially, Zia also faced questions. However, over time he has witnessed people’s attitudes towards music change in good part due to initiatives such as the Music School in Hunza, which is managed by the Aga Khan Music Initiative (AKMI).
“People were shocked when I told them that I was studying music at NCA,” Zia laughs. As of 2019, things have changed. Parents are eager to send their children to the music school, especially after seeing Zia’s success. Today, parents are concerned about their children’s progress in the school, just like they would in any other academic institution.
Recently, in collaboration with the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board and with his professors at NCA, Zia conducted a music camp for students from Hunza, Chitral, and Islamabad, teaching them music theory, history, analysis, instrument skill development, and vocal training. Zia now dreams of being an internationally-renowned artist. He wants his band to become a source of positivity for the world, and plans on pursuing higher education abroad.
Sara Haider is one of Pakistan’s foremost musical talents. She came into the spotlight after a memorable performance as Marty in Nida Butt’s production of Grease, and has since achieved considerable acclaim as one of the chief backing singers on the popular show Coke Studio, before being given the chance as a lead singer.
Asked about her journey, she spoke of the challenges she faced breaking into the music industry, as well as her aspirations, and some of the rewards of success.
“My thinking on music is very different from that of people that I meet in the music industry… I am still struggling despite meeting some success. I have big dreams and my goals have always been the same: I want to be a singer, I want to be really good at this, I want to make a career out of it. It has not been an easy path.
“It has been an enthralling experience and it was like a dream come true to work with musicians that I have always been a fan of. At times, it has been hard to believe that I am actually working with these superstar musicians.”
Sara’s musical journey began with listening to her mother reciting ginans in Jamatkhana and at home. She mentions her mother as her greatest source of inspiration, in terms of music, living a balanced life, and serving the community. Sara also points to learning teamwork at girl guides from a young age as a contributing factor to being a successful musician.
“It’s magical to be around others who love music as much as I do. The opportunity to work with a team, learn how to compose different music, how to sing in different languages — there have been so many amazing experiences. As a backing vocalist you have to get hold of these languages and their dialects with their meanings. Every instrument is interconnected and everybody is depending on each other: they are profoundly linked with each other.”
Asked about her hobbies, Sara mentioned the fact that she is now a certified scuba diver, citing the freedom one can feel underwater, away from computers and phones.
“No one can bother you there, you can’t hear anything — the only thing you can hear is your breathing. It’s like meditating, it’s a wonderful place to be: a world away from all the noise of life, a world of peace. You learn to appreciate both sensations: you appreciate silence when you are around music and you appreciate music when you are around silence. The balance is really lovely — I think both things complement each other.”
Devotional music: A timeless art of mysticism, beauty, and connectivity
In 1978, the Canadian Jamat awaited Hazar Imam’s first visit to Canada with excitement. Shamshu Jamal, a talented Vancouver musician, expressed his joy on this blessed occasion by composing “Maara Mawla Canada Padhaarshe,” the devotional music piece that would go on to become an iconic musical tribute in the Canadian Ismaili community for generations.
Devotional music has occupied an essential niche in our Jamat over centuries. Among other outcomes, devotional music allows us to express our gratitude and excitement, and promotes community cohesion. This form of artistic expression enables murids from all walks of life to engage with their faith and connect with their brothers and sisters.
When Jamal and another Vancouver musician — vocalist Khursheed Nurali — presented their composition, they were very pleased with the response. “It created such love, such unity in the Jamat,” said Nurali. It is this stirring effect of devotional music that continues to render it an integral part of our community’s journey.
Historically, the role of devotional musical expressions during milestone occasions such as the Imam’s Jubilees, has been to unite the Jamat through the art of music. In addition to inspiring Jamati members, these works often spark journeys of personal and spiritual growth for the artists and encourage other talented artists to pursue forms of devotional expression.
Over the years, numerous Canadian artists have followed in Jamal and Nurali’s footsteps, drawing inspiration from the faith to create uplifting devotional pieces. Aly Sunderji, an artist from Vancouver, views music as a “narrative between humans and the divine.” For him, music is a spiritual practice, his devotional pieces allowing him to more deeply engage with the faith.
Throughout Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee year, as artists created devotional music in various styles and languages, the global Jamat found a common space for connection and celebration. Calgary-based musician Zaheed Damani expressed awe at the influential impact of his music among the Jamat: “To see [the songs] connect beyond languages, beyond borders, beyond geography is … incredible.” Reflecting the diversity of the Ismaili community in Canada, Damani’s track entitled Aaya Mawlana features lyrics in French, Gujarati, English, Urdu, and Farsi, and also features cameo vocals of both Khursheed Nurali and Shamshu Jamal.
The Diamond Jubilee year was an opportune time for devotional music to be created and shared. Moreover, it has been a time to explore the intersection of unlikely musical elements, bringing to light contemporary forms of devotional expression. During this momentous time, Damani views songwriting as “a vessel through which we have been able to express our gratitude, our aspirations, and our hopes as a community.”
It is important, then, that the sentiments with which these pieces are created are shared with the global Jamat. Ottawa-raised musician Farah Mitha said that, “without a listener, a creator has nothing to create for.”
Canadian artist Taufiq Karmali regards music as a force bringing individuals together. “As an artist, I feel myself merging with so many communities,” said Karmali, noting how devotional music can serve to educate listeners about the Imamat’s worldly contributions.
Mawlana Hazar Imam has spoken of the importance of music, particularly devotional music, in our intra- and inter-faith relations. At the International Colloquium hosted by The Institute of Ismaili Studies in 2003, Mawlana Hazar Imam expressed his recognition of the value of art in building bridges across different cultural landscapes:
“Whatever its vernacular forms, the language of art, more so when it is spiritually inspired, can be a positive barrier-transcending medium of discourse, manifesting the depths of the human spirit.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam’s guidance and support for the arts has been a driving force in enabling the Jamat to showcase its talents. As Mitha sings, “As one Jamat we have strength / Because you guide the way.”
In gratitude, let us continue to express our devotion, unity, and love through the magic of music.
Musician and composer brothers Salim-Sulaiman speak about what music means to them
Renowned artists and composers Salim and Sulaiman Merchant have obtained accolades in the Indian film industry and have performed in a number of prominent spaces including at the opening ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Their memorable songs such as ‘Jubilee Mubarak’, ‘Ali Mawla’, and ‘Shukran Allah’, which were performed on the occasion of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee, still resonate in our minds. To coincide with the upcoming Aga Khan Music Awards, we spoke with the two brothers about their journey.
From Darkhana boys to legendary musical duo, how did the journey begin?
Salim: Music started very early from the Jamatkhana because Sulaiman and I were part of the orchestra group. I am very fortunate to be influenced by music and culture. Fortunately, we had our father’s guidance and the orchestra as the inspiration.
Sulaiman: I was three or four years old, our dad would rehearse with the band. I would go along with dad, pick up an instrument and start playing. So, my fascination with instruments and music started at a very early age too. And from there, I got a formal education in music by learning tabla, piano, and then eventually working in the Indian film industry.
Getting into the Indian film industry is difficult. You had to struggle to break into it?
Salim: Honestly, we didn’t face any such struggle. There was a buzz created in the industry where people spoke about our work. It’s a lesson for all of us. If you have something special and you are talented, people will appreciate it. For us, it was word of mouth that got us recognition.
Sulaiman: I absolutely agree with Salim. If you are good at your craft, no matter what profession you are in, you will always stand out. So, if you work hard and if you excel in what you do, success will follow.
Having a career in music or the entertainment field is often not encouraged. What would you like to say to the youth who want to make a career in music?
Salim: I think it’s a great industry. It gives you the freedom to explore.
Sulaiman: At one point in time it was not encouraged. I remember how our father used to always tell me that I am a musician and it will never be looked at as a white-collar job. But things have changed radically over the past 20 to 30 years. The exposure you have as a musician now is amazing. If you are creative and passionate, things will work out for you.
What does music mean to you?
Salim: Music is my heartbeat. I sleep music, I drink music, I eat music. (Laughs) I find music in quiet places, I can find music in the rumble of an air conditioner or feel music in the jet engines when I am travelling in planes. I live music. It’s certainly hard to explain what it means to me. It’s an extension of my personality.
Sulaiman: Oh, indeed it means everything! I share the same feeling as Salim. Music for me is everywhere.
Does music help you connect spiritually?
Salim: Absolutely. For instance, Sufi and devotional music connect you with positive energy. For me, more importantly, it connects me with myself.
Sulaiman: Songs like ‘Ali Mawla’ wouldn’t have been made if we weren’t connected to the divine force. There is definitely a very strong connection between music and spirituality. Songs like ‘Bismillah’ and ‘Ali Mawla’ came from the fact that there is a connection between music and spirituality.
You started your career together and have been going strong ever since. When you both have creative differences, how do you manage it?
Salim: Creative differences happen in every field. Between Sulaiman and me, ultimately the music wins.
Sulaiman: In fact, creative differences are good and we both encourage that. When two heads combine on a song, you get two different sounds, styles, and ideas. And a song is always a joint, creative effort.
What is more difficult to compose, background score or songs?
Salim: I think both are equally difficult. Sometimes background score is more challenging. Many people know what music to give at that moment, but very few people know where not to give a background sound. That’s where your experience and sensibility for cinema comes in.
Sulaiman: I agree. Both are equally challenging. Background score is basically creating a narrative with music. The actor’s emotion is the subtext for the music. Talking about songs, here you need to imagine what is going to happen in the scene. Nothing is shot. So, it needs our imagination to play a vital role.
How was your experience with the Jubilee Concerts that occurred around the world?
Salim: It was a phenomenal experience. I am very thankful to the Jubilee Concerts. We could connect with so many people across the world. And to celebrate Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee with everyone, it was surreal. One of the moments I remember was when everyone stood up and sang ‘Jubilee Mubarak’ with tears in their eyes. I could witness the devotion everyone has for Mawlana Hazar Imam. I am glad we could perform on various devotional songs like ‘Noor-e-Ilahi’, ‘Ali Mawla’, and ‘Shukhran Allah’.
Sulaiman: This is the first time anybody has done a series of Jubilee Concerts. It was so beautiful to meet our brothers and sisters all over the world. We visited places where we had never performed before like Moscow, Australia, New Zealand, and Bangladesh. It was a great feeling to connect with everybody. The response was phenomenal. Just as Salim said, you could sense the feeling of overwhelming emotion. You could feel the love and passion of the Jamat.
What inspires you every day to create music?
Salim: My experience as a musician, it all inspires me to create music.
Sulaiman: Like day-to-day life. Your ups and downs, your heartbreak, happiness, everything comes together and inspires me.
Every musician has a dream, what is yours?
Salim: I am very fortunate and very thankful for the life I am given. I have a dream of bringing good melodies, good songs back in the music world. Right now, the music industry is a little distorted and is going through a tough time. Songs like ‘Yeh Honsla’ and ‘Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai’ are good melodies but today, such compositions are absent. I hope I can bring it back in the mainstream cinema.
Sulaiman: Also, there are a lot of artists we want to collaborate with. There is a huge list of venues where we want to perform. Musicians are aspirational for love, happiness, for a response from the audience. The instant reaction when we perform live, it's magnificent.
You performed in front of Mawlana Hazar Imam. How was the experience?
Salim: It is a feeling which I cannot put into words. When your Imam is watching you, what would you say? I basically just shut my eyes and was praying that I don’t fumble or choke up or start crying. For me, it was a very, very emotional moment. I never get nervous while performing but in this case I was nervous. It was a difficult moment but extremely rewarding. I will always remember it.
Sulaiman: It was the most difficult performance of our lives. You are performing in front of Hazar Imam. It was a very emotional moment, I almost had tears in my eyes. When you perform in front of him, you are always critical about your performance. You want to excel in front of him. The emotion we felt at that moment is difficult to express.
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