The Houston Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center’s (IJKC) Social Hall was transformed into a stage for global arts and culture as it hosted performances by Fanna-Fi-Allah and Solero Flamenco.

On May 5, the Aga Khan Council for Southwestern US sponsored a qawwali performance for a diverse audience. Fanna-Fi-Allah is a group with more than 17 years of experience in classical art deeply inspired by great masters from both India and Pakistan. The group delivered a universal message of esoteric meaning for devotion and tolerance through Sufi-inspired music.

“Our aspiration is to honor this lineage and carry it forward, we love performing this form of music and the tradition of all these great Sufis, poets, composers and qawwals,” said Tahir Faridi Qawwal, the founder of the group. “With opportunities like the one provided to us at IJKC and 1,500 worldwide performances, we seek to raise a greater appreciation for this art form.”

Fanna-Fi-Allah’s experience stretches from traditional settings at the honored tombs of Sufi saints in Pakistan to sacred shrines of Data Ganj Baksh in Lahore, Pir Inayat Khan in Delhi, and Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer. By touring the world, Fanna-Fi-Allah brings cultural vibrance to a global audience, including those in attendance at IJKC.

Noorali Momin, a connoisseur of music, noted that this was one of the best qawwali sessions he has ever attended. “I can see the dedication of the artist and their devotion to Sufi art,: he said, and “They created a spiritual connection for the audience and drew them to an enlightened state during their performance.”

At the close of the show, Sanober Ajani described her experience as “mesmerizing.” She said, “I was particularly touched by how the Fanna-Fi-Allah began their devotional performance with a tribute to the Prophet (pbuh) and their finale was dedicated to the protection of Ali- beautifully encapsulating the beginnings of our Imamat into perspective with Sufi music.”

Solero Flamenco

Following the qawwali performance, IJKC transported its audience to Spain with a performance by Solero Flamenco, Houston’s premier Flamenco company. The group danced away to the strumming of guitar by Jeremias Garcia and the enchanting voice of Irma La Paloma. 

In a flamenco, the songs actively deliver a story to its audience. Verses of the song are not predetermined but rather sung to engage specific audience members. Singing is central to this art form, which creates the mood, followed by the guitarist who accompanies the singer’s melody. Finally. the dancers interact with the song while actively adding their own art form of Sordas and Claras created by their palmas (clapping).  The finale song is called a bulerias, which literally means “to mock.” It is a fast-paced melody with a complex beat that is sung to engage audience of all ages.

In attendance was Xavier Herrera, Board Secretary of the Stafford Municipal School District. After the performance, Mr. Herrera said, “the performance here today paid homage and respect to the tradition in Spain.” He commended the Ismaili community for their contribution as a supporting pillar of the larger community and Fort Bend County.

Flamenco dance is based on self-improvisation created by talented artists. Audience member-Rehman Ramzanali remarked that Solero’s performance was “truly authentic.”

At the end of the performance, Irma La Paloma said, “Solero Flamenco is honored to perform at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center. We sincerely believe we are all connected and that music is the universal language. Thank you for your kind welcome and for embracing our art and heritage on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.”