At a grand ceremony on Friday at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, the Aga Khan Music Initiative launched the first-ever edition of the Aga Khan Music Awards.
The inaugural celebrations are taking place over three days, continuing until Sunday, and act as a meeting forum for artists from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, regionally renowned cultural players including the directors of the festivals held across the mentioned regions, and promoters of arts, culture and artistic education in the region, among others.
The celebrations opened on 29 March with a meeting of renowned names from the cultural field and authorities from various countries involved in Aga Khan activities.
Following the grand reception, guests moved to the large theatre hall located inside the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum where the Gulbenkian Orchestra conducted by Pedro Neves featured the master musicians of the Aga Khan Music Initiative.
Introducing the concert and the music awards, his highness Prince Amyn Aga Khan, the brother of Aga Khan, the main dynamo behind all Aga Khan Foundation’s activities, pointed to the choice of Lisbon as a perfect location for launching the Aga Khan Music Awards.
“Portugal is a shining example of a pluralistic society, united in its diversity,” he said in an address, adding that the same diversity is celebrated through the Aga Khan Music Awards .
He went on to underline the mission of the newly launched initiative saying: “the award aims to recognise an exceptional creativity, promise, the musical performance,” yet another aspect of the already two decades-old involvement of Aga Khan in the development and preservation of regional music and its values.
“When my brother launched the music initiative, back then it focused on Asia where it played an important preservation role, something that was very needed in the face of either neglect or repression (in the times of Soviet Union’s power over the then Soviet republics),” Prince Amyn Aga Khan said.
In fact since 2000, the Aga Khan Music Initiative (part of Aga Khan Trust for Culture) – an interregional music development programme that operates in the sectors of education, documentation and performance – has supported, brought to light, developed and educated through music a multitude of communities in Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.
Aga Khan’s educational interventions have created a strong impact in countries such as Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Mali and Egypt.
Master Musicians of the Aga Khan Music Initiative, accompanied by the Gulbenkian Orchestra under the baton of Pedro Neves (Photo: courtesy of AKMA/ AKDN)
The Aga Khan Music Awards are just an additional element of these diverse activities, with the focus on recognition of the values transmitted by the musicians.
“Music’s power of communication is special, enormous and universal. It binds people together and unites them.” the prince explained.
Aga Khan’s role in the region’s music development is unprecedentedly large. Over the past years many music centres have been established and music education introduced to communities across Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. There have also been preservation efforts aimed at traditional instruments and music.
With time, the musicians who benefited from Aga Khan’s network have become in demand performers, a fact that have significantly improved their lives. Traditional musicians have also begun exploring new territories creating interesting multi-cultural dialogues, joining their heritage with different vocabularies of contemporary musical expressions.
In addition, many of the beneficiaries of Aga Khan Music Initiative have now become regionally and/or internationally renowned musicians and promoters of the cultural values of their respective countries.
The opening concert featured the Master Musicians of the Aga Khan Music Initiative, the musicians who are also the “leading collaborators – venerated and composers-arrangers who appear on the world’s most prestigious stages while also serving as teachers, mentors and curators who enrich the Music Initiative’s interregional network of educational programmes,” explains the concert’s brochure.
The Gulbenkian Orchestra was conducted by Pedro Neves, who is also a principal conductor of the Ephinho Classic Orchestra, and has been a guest conductor of numerous Portuguese and international orchestras.
The featured musicians soloists and/or composers included Sirojiddin Juraev, a Tajikistani performer on a variety of long-necked lutes from Central Asia, in his own Suite for Dutar and Orchestra; saxophonist Basel Rajoub from Syria in his Golden Waves; Syrian Feras Charestan’s composition Samai which he played on qanoun.
The evening continued with “Rangin Kaman”, a composition by Hamayoun Sakhi, an Afghan rubab player who was joined by Uzbekistani Abbos Kosimov, a doria player and a table player, Siar Hashimi from Afghanistan.
The final work, titled Tashkent and composed by Rajoub, brought together Rajoub on saxophone, Charestan on qanoun, Juraev on dutar and Kosimov on doria.
In this melting pot of cultures, nationalities and musical belongings, the evening was a perfect showcase of Aga Khan Initiative’s mission to reinvigorate the intellectual wealth of all the nations touched by the foundation.
It is on the stage that we saw living proof of how a diversity and plurality can generate a unique unity, where on the one hand the traditional values are brought to light and on the other hand they create new connections with many diverse music forms, such as jazz or contemporary music.
The celebration continues with performances held by the 14 nominees in the Performance Category at the inaugural edition of the Aga Khan Music Awards, and the final gala during which the winners will be revealed.
Awards will also be handed out to the already announced winners of a number of other categories announced last week: music creation; education; social inclusion; preservation, revitalisation, dissemination of music; and distinguished and enduring contributions to music.
For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture