While the United States was settling into the initial stages of a global pandemic and lockdown, three Ismaili musicians gathered on March 27 to deliver a virtual concert to a national and global audience. Fitoor the Band aims to preserve traditional South Asian music using contemporary influences and keep age-old musical traditions alive for younger and older generations.

The word fitoor, which has an Arabic origin, translates to “madness or passion”—something that leads to obsession. The inspiration for the band’s name draws from the three band members’ intense passion for music. “We believe music has the power to touch your emotions in ways that are profound and spiritual,” they explained. “The name reflects this desire to tap into our audiences’ passion for music.”

The three band members, Irfan, Moiz, and Hassan, first met in New York, where they currently reside. They each participate in the band part-time in addition to other occupations. Before forming the band in 2019, the three had collaborated together in different shows, including the Jubilee Arts Festival and the Pakistani American Youth Society’s Brown and Bold concert.

Each band member has their own unique musical journey. Originally from northern Pakistan, Irfan Sheen is the band’s lead vocalist. He began singing formally as a member of the music society at his university in Pakistan. In 2011, he moved to London, where he formed a band called “SAMA,” which is well-known for its fusion music. After leaving London, he worked as a solo artist for several years before he met the other two band members in New York.

As the band percussionist, Moiz Lalani’s musical journey traces back to his middle school years when he began playing the drums. He played with various New York City and statewide bands through a specialized music high school, and later performed with other cultural music bands throughout the Northeast. He has currently taken up the keyboard to continue challenging himself as a musician.

A self-taught musician, Hassan Ali plays the guitar and has always believed music has no boundaries. Though his musical inspiration largely draws from rock bands such as Junoon and Jal, Hassan enjoys collaborating with artists to play music from other genres as well. 

Given the band members’ backgrounds, much of their musical inspiration draws from their religious and cultural heritages. The group primarily produces South Asian music, while also incorporating elements from Sufi music, folk, pop, and rock genres.

The band’s most recent virtual concert featured everything from Jagjit Singh’s classic ghazal “Koi Fariyaad” to two age-old qawwalis “Bhar do Jholi” and “Laal Meri” (Adnan Sami & Amir Khusrow), as well as Bollywood songs from different eras. They have written several original songs and are hoping to release their first one, “Duniya Badle Gi,” shortly. 

The band members added that their identities have influenced the music they create. “As members of the Ismaili Jamat, we grew up listening to qasidas, ginans, and qawwalis. This exposure has allowed us to seamlessly incorporate devotional music into our performances,” they said.

The band has performed at a number of different shows in Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and Texas. They have also played at various events at New York
Headquarters Jamatkhana. When deciding which songs to perform, the group considers a number of factors, including the genres they specialize in, the type of event they are performing at, as well as their audience’s preferences. “When choosing songs, we try to challenge ourselves by exploring something new each time. The key is to find the right balance between entertaining the audience and staying true to our strengths and passions,” they explained.

At a time when many traditional art forms are losing relevance among the younger generations of immigrant communities, Fitoor the Band serves to revive and rejuvenate traditional music to make it more accessible to today’s youth.

“We hope to inspire the next generation of South Asian Americans to explore the art of their ancestors and blend it with their own unique artistic expression,” the members stated. “In our performances, we try to collaborate with artists across a range of musical genres to bring a new flavor to traditional music, keeping the artistic spirit alive.”