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A Global Tour of Muslim Music

At Alchemiya we love our Muslim music films and documentaries, and we have a big, global Muslim music collection including two separate collections just for Iran and Pakistan. Whether you have five minutes for a Moroccan improvisation on the kalimba,  thirty minutes for some Swahili Beats, or time for a moving, feature length documentary about the sacred music of Syria, we have something for you. 

We will start in Pakistan with Qawwali music. Qawwali is a form of Islamic devotional singing, that originated from the Indian subcontinent. Repeated vocal phrases and inspired musical improvisations mean that compositions have no strictly defined length making each Qawwali performance absolutely unique. Qawwali went global after renowned performer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan first played at the UK’s WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) festival in 1985. For some historical background check out Qawwali – Music of the Mystics, and for eight minutes of sublime and powerful wonder be sure to watch Abida Parveen. However, to immerse yourself fully in the Qawwali experience, see Rizwan Muazzam: Qawwali at the Barbican.  When Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan died in Pakistan in 1997, be left a musical vacuum into which stepped his two teenage nephews. Despite their youth they were determined to continue their uncle’s musical legacy and his pioneering transcendence of cultural, language and religious barriers. The remarkable two hour performance of their Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali group was recorded in London in 2017.

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To Iran now, and a ten part series that ranges from five minute songs to full concert performances. The sound of classical Iranian music is very distinct but what is unusual about this series is the prominence of female performers. This includes the magnificent ensemble Yad-e-Doust in a rare 2016 European concert performance. There are several short pieces performed by the Derakshani & Mahbanoo Ensemble founded by globally renowned musician and composer Majid Derakshani. Hey-del-del gives a wonderful overview of the sheer variety of instruments that enable classical Persian  music to achieve its uniquely recognisable sound. Bringing things up to date, filmmaker, illustrator, singer and songwriter Marjan Farsad has created a beautifully animated film that accompanies a sweetly melodic performance of her own composition. 

Iranian classical music often uses the poetry of Rumi and another interesting musical journey you can take is Rumi in the Land of Khusrau. Interspersed with details from the life of Amir Khusrau and noting similarities between his poetry and Rumi’s, this concert features Persian and Indian performers, musicians and singers in tandem to celebrate the two poets. 

For something completely different that tells a very modern Muslim music story, check out 2009 feature length documentary, New Muslim Cool. Puerto Rican American rapper Hamza Pérez stopped his drug dealing life and started down a new path as a young Muslim. He moved to Pittsburgh’s tough North Side to start a new religious community, rebuild his shattered family, and take his message of faith to other young people through his uncompromising music as part of the hip-hop duo M-Team.

These are just a few from our music collection but we have written in depth about some of our other favourite Muslim music films on the journal before. To read more, see our feature articles: Gnawa: Spiritual Music of Morocco (featured in the video clip above) and Wajd: the Song of Syria

Writer Awa Farah and filmmaker Alice Aedy talk about the making of Somalinimo in an interview about their film, which explores the experience of being Black, Muslim, Somali women at Cambridge.
The award winning short film 'The Present', set in the West Bank about a father and daughter going shopping, shows the dystopian reality of everyday life for Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Writer Awa Farah and filmmaker Alice Aedy talk about the making of Somalinimo in an interview about their film, which explores the experience of being Black, Muslim, Somali women at Cambridge.
The award winning short film 'The Present', set in the West Bank about a father and daughter going shopping, shows the dystopian reality of everyday life for Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

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