Diamond Jubilee Soundscape

Diamond Jubilee Soundscape: A reflection of diversity

At the Homage Ceremony to mark the beginning of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee, an ensemble of 22 Ismaili musicians from around the world joined together to perform an intricate piece of music — a devotional soundscape to accompany the historic event on 11 July 2017. 

Often referred to as a universal language, music provides a common theme to bring people together. Intended to entertain, educate, and inspire thought; music also has the ability to inform listeners about the diversity of artistic expression, and by extension, the diversity of peoples and cultures.

The Homage Ceremony piece reflected the diverse make-up of the global Jamat, and wove together distinct cultural expressions to create a unified harmony. The convergence of familiar sounds from Arabic, Persian, and South Asian traditions produced a unique composition that conveyed the Jamat’s dedication to, and love for the Imam of the time.

Hussein Janmohamed, a composer, conductor and educator, directed the musical program rooted in devotional expressions of Ismailis from various parts of the world. The vision of the project was to create a soundscape reflective of the global Jamat’s pluralistic history and contemporary reality: “The piece braided together distinct melodies and musical elements from Ismaili ancestral traditions with western genres to create a unique sonic tapestry.” Through a collaborative process, the performers engaged in musical conversations exploring faith, culture, and community, so as to bridge identities and facilitate mutual appreciation.

The particular musical experience that emerged, integrated the Arabic qasida Mawla al-Baraya often recited in Syria; the Persian qasida Ali guyam Ali juyam, sung in modern-day Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan; and the South Asian ginan Hanspuri nagari ma(n)he recited by Ismailis rooted in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

In the past, Mawlana Hazar Imam has spoken of music as a symbol to explain how seemingly disparate identities can come together to form a pluralistic whole. At the LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture in 2010, he stated: “When we talk about diversity, we often use the metaphor of achieving social ‘harmony.’ But perhaps we might also employ an additional musical comparison… We might talk not just about the ideal of harmony — the sounding of a single chord — but also about ‘counterpoint.’ In counterpoint, each voice follows a separate musical line, but always part of a single work of art, with a sense both of independence and belonging.”

In this vein, the musical soundscape performed at the Diamond Jubilee Homage Ceremony brought together a number of diverse threads to form a rich tapestry of poetic voices and distinct notes, resulting in a single emotive soundscape, evoking a sense of belonging and befitting the occasion.