DC Welcomes Community Café

For years, IMAN has thought of expanding its Community Café series nationally, but has been careful and thoughtful in going forward with this expansion.  In 2009 and again in 2010, IMAN took Community Café to New York for what turned out to be two of our most successful events.  We knew, then, that we would be doing the same in Washington DC, as we had launched an IMAN DC Initiative at that time.  A couple of years later, the IMAN DC Initiative had birthed Project REACH DC, an independent non-profit organization focused on community development through youth engagement. Project REACH’s focus also included plans for Community Café DC.

This Community Café, appropriately themed “Reach Beyond…,” allowed IMAN and Project REACH to formally partner, and for Project REACH to gain first hand experience from IMAN and its model of art for social change and cultural organizing for community transformation.  After a year of planning, Community Café: Reach Beyond… finally came to Washington DC, in an underserved neighborhood in which Project REACH does most of its work.

Community Café, as usual, brought together a diverse group of artists with a group of very dedicated volunteers that made the event a success.  IMAN mainstays, Brother Ali and Maimouna Youssef hosted the night and made sure the audience was both entertained by their humor and impromptu performances, as well as educated about the work of IMAN in Chicago and Project REACH in DC. After two special performances by stellar vocalist Michelle Strucke and comedian Raad Missmar, the first featured artist was local favorite, Leftist.  All three performers received great energy from the crowd and Leftist proved they were a live band that can’t be categorized in a single genre, but can definitely become favorites of any audience.  The powerful lyrical “beast”, emcee Quadir Lateef followed Leftist and took the energy of the show to the next level, especially when he surprised the crowd by bringing out Brother Ali and Maimouna during his set.   FEW Collective were next and switched things on the audience with a fifteen minute all dance set.  Bravemonk, Inlight, Krillan and DJ Man-O-Wax held the crowd captive with several different dance styles set to house music, hip hop, and break beats.

The first half of the show had enough talent for an entire show, but there was a lot more going on at this Community Café.  Visual artists Nadia Janjua and Ali Coolguy were painting live on stage during the entire show and Nadia also displayed two additional pieces created specifically for the event and its theme.  DJ Scientific, a respected DJ and rocket scientist at NASA was holding down the 1’s and 2’s all night.  The Project REACH team presented a short video on their work in DC and also unveiled their new branding with t-shirts, buttons, flyers and more.  The final act for the night was definitely the most unique – Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang, playing fast paced and frenetic bubu music all the way from Sierra Leone.

Other highlights from the night included food trucks providing food before the show, evening prayer held outdoors, Ridz Design’s backstage photobooth for the artists, and the support of the Project REACH youth and all of the dedicated volunteers.

Feedback from the event has been overwhelmingly positive from the 350+ attendees, and the Project REACH team and IMAN are satisfied with the first DC Community Café.   A special shout out must go to the coordinating team in DC: Nafisa Isa, Bilal Aslam, Iman Kandil, Inshirah Aleem, Nasreen Mustafa, and Project REACH Executive Director, Katara Aleem.

Community Café is sponsored in part by the Open Society Foundations.

Community Café: Rebuild – Saturday, 21 April

Foreclosed homes and abandoned buildings on Chicago’s South Side, war-torn and depopulated countryside in Sudan, and disaster-struck and destroyed ‘hoods of Haiti…  No safe spaces for young folk, people fighting all over the world for land, and families looking for a place just to call home…

It’s time to reclaim spaces and rebuild places to transform our communities.  It’s time for Community Café: Rebuild.

This Community Café will connect with and highlight all the work that IMAN has been doing to reclaim housing and neighborhoods as part of its community building initiatives over the last few years.  The Green Reentry Project is one such project that has garnered local and national attention.  It was launched at the beginning of 2010 and seeks to convert vacant/foreclosed and vandalized properties within the Chicago Lawn Community into vibrant, environmentally sound (green) transition housing.  It recognizes that such rebuilding and stabilization of our neighborhoods holds the key to the solution of interconnected and pervasive problems such as decent housing, job skills, public safety, and effective reentry programs that have become endemic in inner-city communities.

CC ArtistsThe artist lineup for Community Café: Rebuild will include The ReMINDers, from the lands of Belgium, Congo, Queens and now Denver.   Café veterans and audience favorites, The ReMINDers, are on the verge of releasing their new album and we hope to hear some tracks from that.

Another Café favorite performing that night will be Zeshan Bagewadi.  This will be Bagewadi’s first performance with his new band, Zamin, meaning “land” or “earth” in Urdu.

The final performer at the Café that night will be spoken word artist and community builder extraordinaire Mark Gonzales.  He has performed in Palestine and prisons, two places where land and space take on new and contentious meanings.  Gonzales will also be leading the discussion the day after Community Café, Sunday, 22 April, at a community art and social justice workshop.  The workshop will dig deeper into the issue of land, space and community building and transformation.

The dynamic Rasul “Sul Milli” Miller from the land of NYC will be your host for the night, while the sounds of DJ Arkitek will build up the night.

And we’re at a funky venue for this Community Café. The Zhou B Art Center is an old Spiegel warehouse reclaimed and transformed into a South Side Chicago arts center!

Be there, for it’s time to reclaim spaces and rebuild places to transform our communities.  It’s time for Community Café: Rebuild.

Community Café: Just Food

It’s been a while since we’ve had a Community Café folks.  But, worry not, this is all because we’ve been busy planning and IMAN’s Department of Arts and Culture has a lot in store for 2012 and beyond.  First on our list is the February 25th Community Café: Just Food.  That’s right, along the lines of our work on food justice through the Muslim Run: Campaign for Health, Wellness, and Healing, as well as building off last year’s events such as Community Café: Healing Planet Rock and Healthy Eats, Conscious Beats, we are dedicating this Community Café to a basic human right – access to fresh, healthy food for all people regardless of where in our city or world they live.  This issue is real on a daily basis for many people – whether it’s dealing with the food deserts on Chicago’s South and West Sides or famine in Somalia.  Community Café hopes to address some of the issues people are dealing with as well as highlight IMAN’s own local work on food justice.

We’re of course championing this cause with a dynamic line up of artists.  From DC, our featured artist is Maimouna Youssef who herself is a big proponent of the food justice movement, as you can see for yourself in her recent video challenging Monsanto and genetically modified food.  We also have, all the way from the UK,  the duo Native Sun featuring Mohammed Yahya making his first IMAN appearance. But it wouldn’t be Community Café if we didn’t feature some of our own homegrown talent too – Zain Lodhia and on the 1’s and 2’s Ms. Dia.  Last but not least, we have some very special guests dedicating pieces to the “Just Food” theme – Rhymefest,  Mikkey Halsted, and Kuumba Lynx!

But, musicians and performers aren’t the only type of artists at this Café.  Since the theme is equal access to food options… we’ll have a number of food samples, vendors, and culinary artists in store.    The staff and volunteers at IMAN have spent a lot of time planning an event that really hits on our different senses and still drives home our basic theme around food justice.  For those that want to take it a step further, we will offer a workshop the next day.

So, mark your calendars now and arrive early because you know space will be limited, and join us on Feb 25th at the Living Room Lounge – 1100 W. Cermak for another edition of… Community Café!

A True Showcase of IMAN at A Celebration With Soul

Making the best of Chicago’s famed winter season, IMAN’s 2011 End of Year Dinner: “A Celebration with Soul” was aptly held at the Harold Washington Library’s Winter Garden.  The beautiful venue as well as the décor and art contributed by IMAN staff and artist eL Seed set the stage for an event with high ambitions.   Throughout its fourteen year history, IMAN has regularly taken time to produce similar events highlighting our work, bringing our communities together, and of course raising some money for the work we do. This year, we aimed to do the same with another unique IMAN twist.  Guests entered our beautifully decorated venue to the wonderful jazzy and soulful sounds of the band Zzaje that gave a nod to the catalog of music producer extraordinaire, and the keynote speaker for the night, Kenny Gamble.   Beyond the aural delights of Zzaje, guests were visually stimulated by the cutting-edge artwork of eL Seed, a Tunisian artist that seamlessly melds together Arabic calligraphy with graffiti art.  All of eL Seed’s work was created in three days exclusively for our event.  Food was catered by our good friends at Cedars of Lebanon who gave their traditional Lebanese cuisine a touch of soul, again highlighting what IMAN does so well, bringing communities together beyond the traditional barriers. The event focused on highlighting our work with the Green Reentry project, Health Clinic, and Muslim Run: Campaign for Health, Wellness and Healing.  Aligning with this and our Soul theme, we presented two heavyweight speakers – Imam Suhaib Webb and Brother Kenny Gamble also known as Luqman Abdul Haqq.  Both speakers really touched the audience, with Imam Suhaib highlighting the relevance and timeliness of IMAN’s work and Brother Kenny Gamble connecting his own story and work to that of IMAN.   I believe Imam Suhaib’s closing statement said it best, “The spirit of IMAN is a spirit that is transformative and transcendent and is linked to this merciful spirit that the Prophet has taught us.  And it is extremely important that we see this legacy continue through an historical city like Chicago.” I was personally very moved by the performance of Three Generationz.  For those who still haven’t seen these IMAN favorites, the group carries on the tradition of three generations of women who fuse together Native American songs and African American soul with a Muslim sensibility.  Although it may sound confusing, the best way to experience this is by listening to their version of Tala’ al Badru ‘Alayna, a praise song for the Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him). The sold out event, brought together the beautiful people of our IMAN community with an energy that is rare in the middle of Chicago’s winter.  We didn’t meet our fundraising goal, but you can always help out by donating now. And for those who want a piece of the event or just love good original art, we actually have all of El Seed’s exclusive and original art work for sale.  Check out the images here and e-mail asad@imancentral.org to inquire about pricing.  You can also stop by the IMAN office to see the pieces in person.