Muslim music, arts festival opens in New York

NEW YORK: A 10-day festival of music and arts, dubbed as ‘Muslim Voices’, opened in New York on Saturday night with a rendering of Sufi music to jam-packed house.

The performance by Aissawa Ensemble (Andolusian Music of Morroco) and Tayabah Ensemble (a Sufi group based in Avignon (France) received standing ovations for almost five minutes.

The festival was organised jointly by Asia Society, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the New York University’s Centre for Dialogue.

The organisers say they collaborated on the project to build a cultural bridge of understanding. Through music, dance, film and the visual arts, a global tapestry of Muslim artistes are advancing cultural diplomacy.

‘I have a feeling that we will get through, if only because we have the tremendous desire to do so,’ Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah said in an interview with the New York 1 TV channel.

‘This starts to give a platform in saying we really want to listen to many voices,’ says Rachel Cooper, Asia Society’s director of cultural programmes. ‘We don’t want to listen to just the most extreme voice that fulfils some negative stereotype.’

The festival features more than 100 artistes from 23 countries, who are diverse in culture and talent but unified in faith.

‘The diversity of the Muslim world, the scope of its artistic history, the scope of the contemporary work was fascinating. It was deep, it was a vast well of information and artistry,’ says BAM president Karen Brooks Hopkins.

The festival includes Arabic cinema, Indonesian dance, Urdu drama and Mbalax music by Africa’s best-selling pop artiste, Senegalese performer Youssou N’Dour , a Qawwali by the Faiz Ali Faiz ensemble from Pakistan.

‘Even if you’re not in the same religion as me, the same colour, the same culture, it’s not barriers. It’s a richness,’ said N’Dour. ‘And the more you open, the more you describe, you become enriched.’

While the festival looks to present a better understanding of Islam, organisers and artistes say it is also very much for the local Muslim community.

‘It’s equally important for us to get through to the diaspora here, to the Indians and the Pakistanis and the Indonesians and other people from other Muslim countries who are here, to remind them of the heritage they have,’ Naseeruddin Shah said in the interview. Shah relates Dastan-e-Amir Hamza in Urdu and all his performances are sold out.


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