Aga Khan launches awards for Middle East, North Africa, South Asia musicians, music heritage preservation

Ati Metwaly , Thursday 28 Mar 2019

The Aga Khan Music Awards initiative has announced winners in a number of categories this week, while the winner for the music award in performance is to be revealed 30 March in Lisbon

Aga Khan
(Photo: artwork from Aga Khan Music Awards' brochure)

In it's inaugural edition this year, several Aga Khan Music Awards winners have been announced with the performance award to be revealed 30 March during a gala in Lisbon.

Focusing on musicians, music education institutions and initiatives, and musical heritage from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, the laureates revealed each have made a remarkable contribution to their field.

Music Creation Award

To be given to Franghiz Ali Zadeh, Azerbaijani composer and pianist.

While over the past four decades as a classical pianist Zadeh performed the premieres of many 20th century Western composers, she has also presented her own compositions, often influenced by Azerbaijan’s venerable musical and literary traditions. She has cooperated with many renowned orchestras, conductors and other soloists.

Besides her performing activities, Zadeh currently serves as artistic director of the Silk Road International Music Festival in Sheki, Azerbaijan.

Education Award

To be given to Omnibus Ensemble, a group of young musicians from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, who since 2004 “shared the aim of performing music never before heard in Central Asia,” in their own words.

Led by the artistic director, composer, pianist, and conductor Artyom Kim, Omnibus Ensemble's extensive educational activities include intensive practicums, master classes, film screenings, and open rehearsals, all of which allow them to spread and share Central Asia's musical heritage with the interational scene. 

In their activities and concerts they often create multi-cultural dialogue that brings different music traditions into one creative melting pot.

Social Inclusion Award

To be given to Badiaa Bouhrizi, also known by her stage name Neysatu, a singer-songwriter and composer who represents the alternative music scene in Tunisia.

Bouhrizi fuses several classical styles of Arabic music such as muwashshahat and ma'luf and explores creative bridges between different Arabic music traditions and jazz, funk, neo-soul, electronica and reggae.

Bouhrizi's lyrics, which touch on political resistance in Tunisia have put her into hot water with the authorities and for some time she has been banned from performing in her own country. However, her persistence has also given her a nickname, "Miltazema" (Arabic for committed) among her audiences. 

Preservation, Revitalisation, Dissemination Award

Two recepients of the award: Farhod Halimov and The Gurminj Museum of Musical Instruments.

Farhod Halimov is a singer, ghijak (spike fiddle) player, tanbur (long-necked lute) player, and composer of Tajik descent who performs music from the maqom tradition of Samarkand and Bukhara.

The blind musician and multi-instrumentalist, Halimov has developed his personal style through listening to recordings of master musicians of an earlier era. He composed many classical songs to lyrics by renowned Tajik and Uzbek poets.

He has received numerous awards and recognitions which have also led to the honorific title “Qori,” traditionally bestowed on great singers who were blind (Qôri literally means Quran reciter). 

The second winner of is the Gurminj Museum of Musical Instruments (Tajikistan).

Established in 1990 by Tajik actor and musician Gurminj Zavkibekov (1929-2003), the museum showcases an extensive private collection of musical instruments from the artist's native Badakhshan (eastern Tajikistan and northeast Afghanistan). 

Zavkibekov created the museum in the form of a living home for music, a place where musicians would gather and where everyone would be able to savour his Pamiri lutes, drums, flutes, and other instruments from across Central and West Asia.

Today, the museum includes exhibition rooms, a performance venue, a library/archive, musical instrument workshop, and recording studio, all of which create a haven for cultural inspiration, exchange and creative dialogue.

Distinguished and Enduring Contributions to Music Award

To be given to three musicians: Oumou Sangaré, Ballake Sissoko, and Dariush Talai.

Known as the "Songbird of Wassoulou,” Oumou Sangaré is a Malian singer-songwriter from Wassoulou (the region south of the Niger River that transects the borders of Mali, Ivory Coast and Guinea).

Renowned in her home country and internationally, Sangaré draws inspiration from traditional music and dances of Wassoulou, while her song lyrics discuss women’s rights advocacy, gender inequality, child marriage, and polygamy.

Sangaré was named goodwill ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in 2003, and a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters of France in 1998.

Malian musician, kora player and composer, Ballake Sissoko began learning the kora at an early age at his father’s school, and inherited his late father’s place in the Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali at age 14.

He eventually he became the first local kora player to master musical styles typical of the Western guitar while still being able to maintain the traditional West African rhythmic structures required for dancing.

He collaborated with many internationally known musicians and released several albums with his Anarouz reaching the World Music Charts Europe in 2018. His collaboration with French cellist Vincent Segal in their album “Chamber Music” won the Victoires du Jazz for International Album of the Year in 2010.

The third winner is Dariush Talai, an Iranian singer, tar and setar player, musicologist, composer, and educator. He has performed alongside many international musicians, often fusing genres and working on free improvisation where Persian traditional music meets more contemporary music styles, including those from the West. He has also released a number of albums through the Mahoor Institute of Culture and Art.

As an academic, Talai invented his own system of notation for music of the radif tradition, and has published numerous texts that discuss his original analysis of the aesthetics of Persian classical music. 

Patron’s Award 

To be bestowed on Mohammad Reza Shajarian from Iran, who is widely considered the foremost living exponent of Persian classical music (dastgah).

Shajarian has a deep understanding of avaz, the classical style of unmetered singing in the melodic modes of the classical dastgah system that has become his hallmark, as well as a broad knowledge of Persian poetry.

In his multifacted career Ostad Shajarian has been a prolific recording artist, taught in Tehran University and practiced professional calligraphy.

His humanitarian work includes organisation of a benefit concert and aid project for the ancient city of Bam in south Iran when it was hit with a devastating earthquake in 2003. 

Aga Khan Music Awards

The winners of the announced categories will be given awards during the official ceremony to take place in Lisbon, Portugal on Friday 30 March.

During the same ceremony the winners of  Aga Khan Music Award in Performance will be revealed.

The Aga Khan Music Awards were established by His Highness the Aga Khan in 2018 and aim at "recognising exceptional creativity, promise, and enterprise in music performance, creation, education, preservation and revitalisation in societies across the world in which Muslims have a significant presence," quoting the awards brochure.

Master Jury for the 2019 cycle

Nouri Iskandar, researcher and composer working on old Syrian music, is also a musicologist and former director of the Aleppo Institute of Music.

David Harrington, artistic director, founder and violinist for the Kronos Quartet.

Akram Khan, celebrated British dancer, choreographer and artistic director of the Akram Khan Company.

Salima Hashmi, an influential writer, curator and painter, is also a former professor and principal of Pakistan’s National College of Arts.

Jean During, the renowned ethnomusicologist who has studied the music of Iran and the traditions of Central Asia, from Azerbaijan to Xinjiang.

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