Golden Jubilee and launch of the Matki Band
During Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee in 2007-08, Jamati leaders began a program which focused on improving the quality of life for our seniors. As a result, two significant initiatives were launched in the United States: the Elderly Enrichment Center, and Aging Gracefully. Classes were launched for General Education Diploma certification, English language skills, and computer use, as well as Yoga for the mind and body. A unique offspring of this platform to engage seniors and offer opportunities to come together was the launch of the Ismaili Matki Band.
The Matki Band began in Atlanta, but spread to Houston when visitors there were inspired seeing others performing in Atlanta Jamatkhana. They showed a video clip of the performance to the orchestra-band lead in Houston, requesting him to initiate something similar. This led to the formation of the Southwest Matki Band, which now has over 100 members in several cities, ranging in age from 60-90 years. Since then, the Florida Jamat have also formed such a band.
Matki is a Gujarati word referring to clay pots, often used to hold water, but also used as percussion instruments in villages, by using utensils or one’s hands. Today, band members play the tambourine, djembe, keyboards and other percussion instruments, and include English, Spanish, and Gujarati items in their repertoire, as well as many Bollywood and folk songs.
“When I was initially approached by the seniors, I was skeptical about how such a program would work,” says Kamal Haji, creative director and lead instructor of the Southwest Matki Band, at the helm of this initiative since its formation in 2010. “However, as the auditions were conducted, the criteria was tweaked to accommodate musical talents of the seniors, who shared inspiring stories of their individual musical journeys,” he added.
A diverse pool exists within the band, noted Kamal, saying, “It is extremely humbling to be in the company of experienced members of the Jamat who come from different parts of the world, including Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, East Africa, and the Far East.”
Through his engagement, he recounted the sheer wealth of knowledge the members possess and said, “Many have seen our Jamat go through trials and tribulations, their stories have inspired me, and I have been surprised by their mental and spiritual strength.”
Kamal found himself soul-searching for a contribution to mark the Diamond Jubilee. A songwriter himself, he decided to engage the Matki Band as co-writers of a Gujarati song for his Diamond Jubilee album, Reflections. Through music, Kamal aspired to introduce the benefit of music for cognitive functions within this group.
The Band members worked for countless hours before the final lyrics of Bahaar, meaning “spring,” were completed. In the line, “Avyo Diamond Jubilee No Avsar, Karim Shah Mane Walaa lage,” (“Here comes the Diamond Jubilee, Karim Shah is dear to our hearts”), the band unanimously express their love and gratitude for the Imam of the time.
The Southwest Matki Band has performed at numerous Aga Khan Foundation Walks and outreach events, including at the Indian Cultural Center to an audience of over 5,000 people for five consecutive years, and multiple India Republic Day Celebrations in Houston (with coverage by TV Asia, and local newspapers) between 2012 and 2018. Additionally, it performed at the Indian Muslim Association of Greater Houston’s Annual Eid Celebration.
The Band also represented the Ismaili Council at an event where Houston was selected as the City of Compassion at the national level in 2016, the Fort Bend Cultural Event in 2012, and ABC 13 Television’s Food Drive at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre.
“One of the most memorable things about the Bahaar rehearsals was our creative director Kamal’s vision to instill acoustic quality in all participants, says Rasidah Ali, who plays the tambourine. She adds: “We were required to practice on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule. The lyrics were based on Hazar Imam’s expected 2018 USA visit, and as part of this musical rendition, we are pledging our love, spiritual, and emotional devotion to him.”
The Matki Band crossed borders when the Paris Jamat requested permission to perform the song at the Mulaqat there. Currently, in the US Southwestern region, the song Bahaar ignites the stage for all Salgirah celebrations, with the Jamat joining in and playing raas. The song is destined to remain a part of the US Jamat’s devotional and celebratory repertoire for many years to come.
This initiative allows seniors to be active, encourages camaraderie, and acts as an extended family for them, illustrating that age is no barrier to exhibiting passion and talent, while improving their quality of life.
To listen to Bahaar and other tracks from the Reflections album, visit the album page here.