It is 12:30 a.m. and I am sitting in the hall, watching as the music begins to slow down and the crowd begins to clear. It is a game of the last man standing on the dance floor, and I certainly haven’t done enough cardio to keep up with all the rasura! There is an air of serenity that I hadn’t felt until the Homage Ceremony, when I remembered why we dedicated those hours of practices; putting our blood, sweat, and tears (yes, all three) into each and every aspect of this significant celebration.
The volunteers are finally beginning to sit down and eat, after hours of service, a smile on their faces that reflect a mix of emotions, from joy to nostalgia to relief. Sitting here, in this beautifully decorated hall adorned in teal, I also get the chance to reflect on this journey of the past few weeks - and what a journey it has been!
As a performer blessed with the opportunity to serve in multiple aspects of the event, I loved being able to see dedicated singers, dancers, and musicians rehearsing. It allowed me to strengthen bonds with old friendships and create new ones. Whether it was dancing in the sweltering sunshine or attempting to draw Spiderman with my mediocre mendhi skills, the preparation for this Diamond Jubilee was one that I will always remember.
For me, one of the most memorable aspect of this glorious experience was singing the Jubilee song, With Heart, With Love. This was composed by artists under the aegis of the Jamati Programs and Activities Task Force, to be performed in nine cities across the United States for the Diamond Jubilee Opening Ceremony on July 11.
Being able to perform with six other talented human beings, all from different ages, interests, and backgrounds brought its own surprises and learning experiences. My choir-mates, continuously surprised and amazed me. There was Nizar Qamar, a man known for his soulful ginans, who really should record himself because his voice deserves to be heard by everyone. There was Ali Shah, who made an audition film on a whim after being told that he had a nice voice; and then there was our lead vocalist Aiyla Ladha, our youngest member, with a choir background, who quickly picked up the song and had a fresh enthusiasm, even though she was tired and jetlagged. Fahreen Ramjee, a supermom dedicated herself to music from a young age. Shariff Suleman, who was previously my Religious Education Center teacher went from a mentor to a friend. Finally, our phenomenal local director, Laila Karodia, who was patient, kind, and understanding. It is because of her commitment that we were able to sing this song especially commissioned for the Diamond Jubilee.
With Heart, With Love, was beautifully crafted by Samira Noorali, Kamal Haji, Aamir Barolia, and Shariq Lalani, and featured Tajik, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, and English lyrics, resounding in a Bageshri raga. Appropriately, Bageshri is a classical raga which is meant to depict the emotion of the lover waiting for the reunion with the beloved.
Diversity was not limited to just the words, as instrumental varied from the tabla to the violin to the rubab to the sitar. I recall listening to it for the first time along with my fellow choir members. It was just before prayers, and tea lights glowed around the table in the Jamatkhana lobby as the first notes began to play. No one spoke for at least two minutes after, as it had rendered us all speechless. “Your hand is on my shoulder. Your face fills my soul with truth.”
The powerful lyrics were just as beautiful as the Kalimah sung in the middle of the song followed by the invocation “Subhanallah,” sung phenomenally by Fahreen. Often, I would find myself caught in the intricacies of rhythm and tone, determined to get every aspect of the song right. However, we were reminded by Laila, our local director that “there was only one person we were singing to and perhaps it didn’t matter to him whether all the rhythm was in place or whether we were on pitch, just as long as we were singing with our hearts”.
The day of the event came faster than we could imagine, and finally the moment of the Jubilee Song was upon us. What we often forgot during practice was that we only had one chance to sing this song to our beloved Mawlana Hazar Imam at his Diamond Jubilee Opening Ceremony and that thought in itself made our hearts race.
Backstage, our choir gathered in a circle, the men in suits with teal ties, and the women in dresses with teal scarves, reflecting the western context of the song and the Diamond Jubilee colors. Farheen began to recite a prayer, as we joined hands in anticipation. We ended with “Bismillah,” and went onstage. It was not until the song started that I relaxed, letting the music take control and just enjoying singing the with the rest of the choir. We left the stage in high spirits, feeling immense joy, having indeed just sung for our Imam and the Jamat in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee.
“With Heart, With Love” is the official Diamond Jubilee Song for United States Jamat. The lyrics are predominantly in English, reflecting the Western context in which we live today as American Ismailis, yet features sounds and languages from our roots and the different parts of world where Ismailis reside. The song is available for download on The.Ismaili and the Ismaili USA app.
Song Credits: Song Facilitator: Nily Haiderali; Composed by: Samira Noorali, Kamal Haji, Aamir Barolia; Produced by: Aamir Barolia and Shariq Lalani; Lyrics by: Samira Noorali and Kamal Haji; Vocals: Samira Noorali, Saif Sattani, Kanwal Sumnani, Kamal Haji, Nily Haiderali, Shariq Lalani and Lola Kassamali; Chorus: Pervez Mirza, Imran Boodhwani, Arsalan Hirani, Arshad Rais, Moiz Merchant, and Amin Veljee