What Is the Music of the Muslim World?

Last year I had the good fortune to work with Link TV on an original series called "Rappers, Divas and Virtuosos: New Music From the Muslim World." (Yes, it's a mouthful!) We deliberately chose artists whose work was cutting edge, and from diverse backgrounds: a brash folk rock singer from Bangladesh, a world renowned classical composer and player from Iran, Morocco's premiere Hip-Hop group, and a Western Saharan diva. These profiles are now being streamed in full on the Link TV website, and I hope that you will check the series out in its entirety. I've spliced 'n diced together a few minutes from each one just for this post. --My apologies to the filmmakers.

What is the Music of the Muslim World? from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

All of these artists are struggling with societal issues while being true to their own artistic vision. But what I come away with after looking at these short profiles yet again, is a sense of their variation. Each of these segments has its own character, dictated by the music and the artist(s) it represents.

Kayhan Kalhor is a contemplative man utterly dedicated to his music, which has received critical acclaim worldwide. We shot with him while he was in New York to play with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, and then in Iran. His music is a wonderful blend of Persian tradition with modern eclectic sensibilities. The Moroccan Hip-Hop band H-Kayne is rapidly becoming a hit not just in Morocco but in France as well. While their music has become more mainstream of late, their concerns with the problems of Moroccan youth are a continuous thread in their performances. Anusheh's work with her band Bangla has revived interest in endangered Bangladeshi folk forms amongst her generation. The vastly talented Q Overdose directed the profile of this controversial figure. I have been a fan of Mariem Hassan's extraordinary voice for years. I was particularly happy to bring the Saharawi cause a bit of publicity, as it seems that so very few people know about it. Thankfully, her brand of Desert Blues is gaining recognition. You can see the entire song she sings in the beginning of the segment here.

The series was produced by Steven Lawrence for Link TV, and there's one more in the series, still in production, about the Senegalese Rapper Sister Fa. I'll keep you posted on that one.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg, since 47 of the world's countries have a Muslim majority.

Yes, there is indeed much music from the Muslim world -- too much to fit into one comfortable definition.