The melody of a mandolin, accordion, banjo, and violin filled the room, bringing together nearly 200 people from different faiths and cultures on a Sunday afternoon. On October 27, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (AJFF), and the Ismaili Council for the Southeastern United States presented in partnership a film screening of “El Gusto,” a musical documentary by filmmaker Safinez Bousbia, who won the Best Director Award at the Abu Dhabi International Film Festival in 2011. The film screening was held at the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Norcross, Georgia.

 

The film portrays the coming together of Muslim and Jewish musicians for their love of Chaabi music, after being separated due to conflict in Algeria. “I love how a story can bring people together. I think that art, and particularly film, is a beautiful way to bring audiences together and help foster a love of these international stories with universal themes,” said Katherine Price Crosby, the Community Programming Manager for AJFF.

The Ismaili Jamatkhana opened its doors with a warm welcome to a large and diverse audience. Prior to the film screening, the audience was given tours of the Jamatkhana, as well as of the Historic Cities Program Exhibition by the Ismaili community volunteers. The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has for over two decades engaged in the restoration of many historic monuments in the Muslim World, as was shown in the exhibition on display. His Highness the Aga Khan, as Chairman of the Network, has explained that such cultural legacies have an important position in the development arena.

“It’s really all about people coming together and being able to be a part of the sharing of cultures,” said Nafeesah Madwyn, a volunteer for AJFF. Nafeesah has been on the film committee for five years. “Engaging with different cultures and different people is what brings me back every year,” she shared.

This event sparked aspirations of peace and prosperity. “I hope attendees found the film moving, and that they enjoyed a day of entertaining programming at a non-traditional theater space,” said Price Crosby. The idea of the Ismaili Jamatkhana as a place for gathering of different communities celebrating and learning from one another was prevalent. “We love working with the Ismaili Community, as they always welcome audiences and our programming in a unique way,” added Price Crosy.

The film screening commenced with a speech from Salima Jaffer, President of the Ismaili Council for the Southeastern United States. “Through events like these, we learn to see our differences in a new way. Instead of viewing cultural diversity as a burden or even as a threat, we can view it as a gift from the Divine, an opportunity to learn and grow, and an opportunity to understand and indeed appreciate the other,” she stated in her opening remarks.

Sherry Frank, Board Member of the AJFF, spoke on behalf of the AJFF. “One aspiration for AJFF was for it to be informative, enjoyable, and engaging. But, one strong dream is that it would be an opportunity to build bridges,” she said.

At a speech given by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Lisbon Aga Khan Music Awards on March 31, 2019, he 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, as has been the chanting of devotional and historical or epic texts.”

It was in what is part of Spain and Portugal called al-Andulus, that Muslims, Jews, Christians, created together with an exemplary culture of tolerance, fostering musical creativity that even included new types of musical instruments and pioneering approaches to music education.

There is remarkable diversity in the world of Muslim music and it reflects the incredible tapestry of Muslim cultures themselves, including musical traditions that have been carefully cultivated over the centuries within the Ismaili community. 

The room filled with applause as the film ended and credits rolled on the screen. Dr. David Marcus, a Lecturer of Arabic at Georgia Institute of Technology concluded the event by serenading the audience. He sang traditional Arabic songs accompanied by the Oud. Members of the audience were nodding their heads and tapping their toes, a different strut to the same rhythm.

This event brought together people of different faiths and cultures and found inspiration in building a community in which differences are celebrated and seen as an opportunity for growth and education.