Posted: Tue Mar 08, 2016 9:58 pm Post subject: ISMAILI ART AND MUSIC
‘Ashiqi Angar brought Chitrali music to the fore’
While working on a project together, singer-songwriter Zoe Viccaji and actor-director Adnan Malik came across 25-year-old Irfan Ali Taj whose vocal abilities and slick playing of the rubab and guitar left them more than impressed. Months later, Viccaji and Taj were ready to put out their first ever collaboration together, Ashiqi Angar.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Taj said the song was written by a fellow Chitrali songwriter, Mir Saleem, who is part of Taj’s former band, QashQarian. “The song really is the first to come out from the plains of Chitral into the mainstream. It has brought our music to the fore,” he said. The Urdu lyrics have been penned by Abdullah Haroon and Viccaji can be seen crooning to the lines in the video.
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With the Chitrali and Urdu lyrics both alluding to a longing for the beloved and the composition deriving heavily from folk music of the highlands, the video has ironically been filmed at a beach somewhere along the coastal part of Pakistan. Viccaji said the video, directed by Junaid Mustafa, was conceived on a shoestring budget. “On the other hand, the response it has received is amazing,” she said. Viccaji has every reason to believe Taj will soon make it big. “He has put in genuine effort. His heart is in the right place. I am sure more great songs will be coming out from his end.” The song has been produced by musician Mubashir Admani.
According to Taj, the song delves into two different philosophies. “The Chitrali lines signify the concept of ishq-e-majazi whereas the Urdu lyrics denote ishq-e-haqiqi. The song talks about how love does not kill you but makes you stronger, making you capable of achieving bigger things in life,” he said.
Would love to collaborate with Sajjad Ali: Zoe Viccaji
The upcoming musician feels very strongly about the literary tradition of his part of the world. He plans on reviving classical poetry inked by writers from Gilgit and Chitral through his music. “Not only do I want to highlight the struggle of these people but also to underscore the historical importance of the region.” Taj said he wants others to see Chitral the way he has seen it.
With Ashiqi Angar already out, Taj is currently working on forming another band called Siachen. He has plans of releasing another single, Teri Talash, in which he will experiment with dhol, shehnai and other Eastern instruments. In his own words, it is a “masterpiece in the making”.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2016.
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Islamic art exhibition at Dallas Museum of Art introduced with Ismaili Choir performance
15 March 2016
For the next 15 years, some of the most precious Islamic artefacts from one of the world’s largest private collections of Islamic art are being housed in the heart of Texas.
Holdings from the Keir Collection have been made available to the Dallas Museum of Art as part of a long term loan, “transforming the museum’s Islamic art collection into the third largest of its kind in North America,” according to the Museum.
A first exhibition from the collection — Spirit and Matter: Masterpieces from the Keir Collection of Islamic Art — presents a selection of over 50 works in various mediums, from rock crystal to paper, metalwork, ceramics, carpets, and textiles. The items span 13 centuries of art from the Muslim world, spread from Spain to Central Asia.
Included among them is an ewer carved from rock crystal — a remarkable object dating back to the late 10th to 11th century Fatimid period in Egypt. “The Fatimid ewer is among the world’s greatest treasures, and we are privileged and grateful to be responsible for its care and presentation,” says Maxwell L. Anderson, former director of the Museum.
Spirit and Matter was introduced in September 2015 with a lecture by the exhibition’s organiser Dr Sabiha Al Khemir. The evening opened with a special performance by the Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir of Dallas.
“The choir’s approach is to create awareness about pluralism through musical expressions inspired by various global traditions and Islamic cultural heritage,” says Fez Meghani, one of the choir’s directors. “They showcase very engaging — at times intriguing — takes on both traditional and contemporary voice pieces.”
» Listen to an audio recording of the choir’s performance and Dr Sabiha Al Khemir’s lecture at the Dallas Museum of Art website
The choir performed two pieces, Profit & Loss — inspired by a children’s book published by the Aga Khan Museum — and The Name. Both poetically expressed the concepts of spirituality, ethics, diversity, and pluralism in Persian, Arabic and English.
“This community — the Ismaili community — is a community of peace and love and volunteerism that is at the essence of selflessness,” said Dr Al Khemir at the start of her lecture. A senior advisor for Islamic Art at the Dallas Museum of Art and a professor of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas, she lauded the choir’s performance and the community's historic contributions to the arts and humanities.
Dr Al Khemir, who was instrumental in bringing the Keir Collection to the Museum, hoped that its acquisition and the newly opened exhibition would raise awareness about the beauty and diversity of Islamic art, and the universality of values expressed through its artifacts. These themes fit harmoniously, she noted, with the messages contained in the devotional literature performed in song by the Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir.
During the next hour, Dr Al Khemir presented slides about the pieces on exhibit, including drawings, metalwork, ceramics, and textiles, to showcase the diversity and beauty of Islamic heritage. She focused on the Fatimid rock crystal ewer to highlight the intellectual and pluralistic tradition of the Fatimids.
“His Highness the Aga Khan, whom I had the honour and privilege to hear in Paris,” she recalled, “speaks of pluralism, of diversity, of modernity — it is a voice that brings hope to us all.”
The Spirit and Matter exhibition will be on display until July 2016 at the Dallas Museum of Art.
Conchord: Three Muslim Musicians on a Personal Search
By Samira Noorali, exclusive for Ismailimail.
Sarosh Mawani, Aly Panjwani and Mehak Noorani are members of a musical trio and respond to the catchy band name, Conchord. Over the last four years, the group has created a body of work that expresses their understanding of Islam - an Islam that they hold true to their hearts. Now, with the release of their seventh YouTube single, “Stand As One,” they hope to inspire listeners into peaceful action and meaningful dialogue.
Conchord’s work forges a sense of unity within the Muslim Ummah, especially among the new generation of American youth. However, it also stirs contemplation about who can and should speak out on social concerns surrounding faith-identity.
“It is every Muslim’s responsibility to interpret their faith for the contemporary era rather than blindly believing what they have been taught,” said Noorani, a lyricist and singer who strongly believes in engaging in personal search when it comes to faith.
Composer, producer and singer Sarosh Mawani says music gives him and his fellow musicians the ability “to convey a more positive message about Islam than what we hear in the media through art.”
For Conchord, music is a platform for self-expression and discussion regarding misconceptions of Islam. The group’s message about a peaceful Islam comes out through lyrics like, “Gentle words honestly explain, turn a cheek our virtues remain,” and resonates strongly among young listeners. Their videos have also attracted thousands of online viewers.
Islamophobia is an emotional topic for the trio and is the basis for the lyrical content in “Stand as One.” Lyrics like “Muhammad preached peace and harmony, but our message is under scrutiny,” express their vulnerability as American Muslims, while statements like “Islam is love, love conquers fear” demonstrate a willingness to confront the ignorance that characterizes the current times.
Part of combating Islamophobia is “sharing the beauty of Islam through music,” said Aly Panjwani, a lyricist, composer and singer.
“You apply music to yourself and the context of the time,” said Panjwani. “Music can elicit feelings that language alone can not. The entire global community can be affected and understand one person’s expression because music is universal. The sounds I hear are the same sounds others hear. The beauty is we can interpret them in our own ways. My musical theater director used to say characters sing when words alone aren’t enough to fully express emotion.” Panjwani is currently pursuing a degree in Culture and Politics at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a Certificate in International Development. He is interested in utilizing the arts toward justice and diplomacy efforts. He is also a member of a university theatrical production called “God and Country” which speaks to issues of racial inequality and discrimination around the country. Panjwani believes that the arts make the experience of faith at once more personal and more universal.
Conchord’s music emphasizes messages that resonate with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They focus on core values of Islam, such as peace, love and hope, which are common among people of many other religious backgrounds. These fundamentally similar values provide a bridge into the hearts and minds of the people Conchord is trying to reach - people who may or may not understand the message of Islam. While Panjwani suggests that looking at differences may shed light on the ways in which different people connect with God, Noorani believes that looking at differences first is no more than “the psychology of protection.” Noorani is a member of an organization at New York University called Muslim Jewish Interfaith Dialogue. In this setting, she uses Conchord’s music as a means of demonstrating the commonalities between people of faith.
That Interfaith dialogue is of interest to Noorani comes as no surprise considering she is studying to be a speech-language pathologist. With a major in Communicative Sciences and Disorders and minors in Multifaith and Spiritual Leadership, Nutrition and Dietetics, and Public Health, she is finding ways to incorporate her passion for the arts into her career path. While on an academic plane she is interested in the intersection of linguistics and healthcare in the geriatric domain, she also has a personal vision of improving race and faith relations through her practice. Noorani was involved in her high school theater department as a teenager and currently sings in NYU Masti, an all-female South Asian a cappella group.
Mawani, whose upbringing was split between Pakistan and Texas, composes and produces Conchord’s tracks. He also graces a few pieces with neumatic vocal phrasings that transport listeners to the East. Although Mawani is responsible for bringing together the components of both Eastern and Western music in production, he asserts, “I’ve never been formally trained.” Mawani self-trained in piano at an early age and played percussion in his high school’s Drumline. He is now a singer and Music Director for Swaram A Cappella at Texas A&M. His compositions make use of Sufistic elements, a style which is all the rage in many parts of the world – especially in South Asia and the Middle East.
Mawani is a melody-first-and-then-the-lyrics kind of guy, and the group agrees that the sonic feel of a piece should determine the overlying message. Conchord’s process of composition makes evident their priorities as musicians and Muslims. For example, their piece, “Sawm” began with few key ingredients: a melody, a commitment to involving as many participants as possible and an intention to help their peers understand the foundational principles of fasting during Ramadan. Once the message of unity and solidarity was apparent in the musical composition, it came naturally to streak the manuscript with lyrics that celebrated fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Conchord’s vision of a more accepting and diverse world comes through in their music videos as well. The video for their song “A Dream” contains several Muslim and non-Muslim participants. Some of the lyrics call upon the entire international community to join in solidarity to spread the positive messages inherent in universal values, while video images show participation from people of many ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
A wave of music coming from Muslim artists all over the world has taken on various stances in the last decade. Some popular songs offer a cathartic response to particular acts of violence like “Mujhe Dushman ke Bachon ko Parhana Hai” penned by Major Imran and “Khalipan” by Salim-Sulaiman. Others praise the Prophet like Sami Yusuf did in his huge hit, “Al-Mu’allim.” Many have also addressed the issue of Muslim identity in creative ways, such as taking older cultural texts that would normally be sung in unison (i.e. Naat), and giving them lush harmonies and counterpoint, essentially “westernizing” the expression of devotion.
Conchord is taking a different approach and wants to share their “clash of cultures” experience with other first generation American Muslims. “We’re writing our music as millennials,” said Noorani. “We’re not like our parents; we’ve been raised in a very different culture. Our interpretation and our understanding of our faith is different as well.” With music, Conchord imparts what they have learned about the complexities of Islam in a contemporary context, and in turn, helps others to navigate what it means to be Muslim in this day and age.
The group looks to Sami Yusuf, Hussein Janmohamed, Fez Meghani, Salim and Sulaiman Merchant, A.R. Rahman and Jon Bellion among other artists for inspiration. They aspire to reach larger and larger audiences in the future with their hopeful message of a more peaceful and just world.
Samira Noorali (samiranoorali.com, Facebook) is an Indio-based writer, musician and lecturer. She has published creative work in various literary magazines and journalism in ITL News and Ismailimail.
Ismaili Dance Ensemble’s traditional Indian dances at the Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center grand opening set for May 28
Special events and performances complete with confetti cannons are scheduled for the grand opening including a drumline, Cookie Joe’s fusion of classical, jazz and hip-hop dance moves, and the Ismaili Dance Ensemble’s traditional Indian dances.
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