Music has always been an integral part of the cultural fabric of Muslim societies. From Fatimid Cairo to the Iberian Peninsula, music has long brought people together, fostering a sense of identity and community. Around the world, young Ismaili musicians are continuing this rich tradition.

At the Aga Khan Music Awards Prize-Giving Ceremony in Lisbon in 2019, Mawlana Hazar Imam said, “The cultural heritage of Islam has long embraced musical language as an elemental expression of human spirituality. Listening to music, practicing music, sharing music, performing music - have long been an intimate part of life for Muslim communities across the world.”

Whether they are competing at international talent shows, conducting orchestras, or organising music festivals, a number of young musicians follow in this vein, and continue to inspire.

Chorshanbe Alovatov (Tajikistan)

Chorshanabe Alovatov, 22, is best known for his victory at the “Central Asia’s Got Talent” competition. The popular talent show toured four countries before culminating in Almaty, Kazakhstan where millions of television viewers tuned in to watch the artists. Chorshanbe, a student from Tajikistan, had long been a fan of the show before he finally got the chance to audition.

“I still remember how difficult my first performance was,” he said. “I had to wait in line for 17 hours before I finally had a chance to perform. During my song, I didn’t even notice the judges press the Golden Button that would qualify me for the semi-finals.”

When deciding on what songs to sing for the competition, Chorshanbe wanted to reflect his roots, while also mixing in other forms of music. For the semi-finals, he mixed together modern and Pamiri folk songs. In the final round, Chorshanbe surprised crowds when he combined an Italian song with the languages of the Pamirs.

Chorshanbe’s connection to music, however, goes back several years. For many generations, his family members have been musicians.

“The fact that I grew up surrounded by musicians influenced me greatly and music easily found its place in my heart,” he said.

In the third grade, he started singing and playing the Pamiri rubab and quickly decided to devote his life to music. Today, along with his many performances, Chorshanbe is in his third year at the Institute of Arts of Tajikistan. He hopes that his success can inspire other aspiring artists to follow in his footsteps and make their own music.

“For those who are new to music, I want to say that you should never give up,” he said. “Dreams do not come true when you just sit idly. You need to put in a lot of effort.”

Naira Sidi (USA/Canada)

Since she was young, music has been found in every part of 24-year-old Naira Sidi’s life. When asked about her early commitment to music, Naira did not hesitate to acknowledge her parents’ involvement.

“I’ve loved to sing ever since I learned how to talk. My parents were so responsive to my interests and drove me to weekly piano lessons and choir rehearsals,” she said.

While at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Canada, Naira found a perfect degree to combine her interests in both music and children: music education.

Whether conducting orchestras or presenting professional development workshops about social justice to local teachers, Naira’s passion for music has a strong inclination towards empowering people and bringing them together.

“I have conducted groups ranging from children to senior citizens. My favorite part is empowering students to play pieces they never believed they could,” she said.
Naira is currently studying music education at the Crane School of Music in upstate New York, and her research focuses on social justice music education. When asked about her future plans, she looks forward to teaching music in primary schools.

“It’s my dream to implement a social justice curriculum, where students study pieces of music that respond to current events such as racism, gender issues, poverty etc. and compose their own pieces in response to real-world issues,” she said.
As advice, Naira shares that “when you learn music, you learn so much more than just music. You grow in your ability to be sensitive and vulnerable. Don’t focus on being perfect. As soon as you become overly critical of your mistakes, you lose the joy. You’re not a technician. You’re not a computer. You’re a musician. Use your creativity and expression to distinguish yourself from a machine.”

Junayde Alam (Pakistan)

You may recognise 18-year-old Junayde Alam, from the “Jubilee Mubarak” music video. The Gilgit, Pakistan singer was one of the artists featured in the musical tribute composed by the musical duo Salim-Sulaiman for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee. The song, which featured artists from around the world, amassed over 2 million views on YouTube. When asked how it felt to be a part of the project, Junayde described the experience as being a great honour.

“I am beyond grateful to be a part of such a beautiful song for our global Ismaili Jamat,” he said.

Junayde first realised his singing talents while performing at the “Talent Night” of the Broadening Horizons Youth Camp, organised by the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board in Pakistan.

“After I finished singing, everyone in the crowd gave me a standing ovation. That moment triggered the artist in me,” he said.

Since then, Junayde has gone on to release multiple songs on YouTube and has performed on stages across Gilgit-Baltistan. Most recently, Junayde was part of the organising group behind the Ghasuray Music Festival. With the goal of showcasing Northern Pakistan’s deep musical heritage, the Festival brought together artists and music lovers from across the region.

When asked what the most memorable moment of his musical journey has been so far, Junayde spoke about performing in front of his classmates while studying in the United States as an exchange student.

“It was so special to see the positive reaction of the American audience to my music,” he said.

Currently in Grade 12 at the Aga Khan Higher Secondary School in Gilgit, Junayde plans to continue learning more about music. In the future, he hopes to increase South Asian representation in popular culture.

“Through music, I hope to be able to deliver the message of pluralism and show South Asia’s rich musical tradition.”