Café Goes Global

The ambiance and vibe of September’s Community Café in the International House at the University of Chicago fit Chicago’s World Music Festival perfectly. The diversity of the crowd matched that of the artists, who presented soulful music from Sudan, Pakistan, and Egypt.

While the partnership with the World Music Festival began in 2010 as an effort to increasingly expose Chicagoans to Muslim artists from around the world, it was also an opportunity to connect the festival with more South Side venues. On the border of Woodlawn and Hype Park, IMAN would have been remiss not to invite long-time alliance partner Metropolitan Area Group for Igniting Civilization (MAGIC), to share some words. MAGIC’s Executive Director told the crowd of their mission to empower community youth to stimulate and create social change, often drawing parallels with IMAN. With this mission as the backdrop, the artists enlightened the audience with their own talents.

East-African retro-pop band Al Sarah and the Nubatones from Brooklyn kicked off the show with Al Sarah’s powerful voice and illustrated a fusion between traditional and modern Sudanese music. This set a spiritual and powerful vibe for the rest of the show through which the audience felt the artists’ aura.

IMAN Staffers and the energetic hosts for the night, Ndidi Okakpu and Alia Bilal then introduced Arooj Aftab who innovates off of classical Pakistani Sufi music. Arooj Aftab’s music left the audience mesmerized, including those who could not understand the Urdu spoken in her songs.

Following Arooj Aftab, Wust El-Balad from Cairo ended the night with a lively and upbeat set of music. Wust El-Balad reminded us of the significance of “bringing different people together in the World Music Festival” when they connected the audience to the Arab Spring by singing “Sout al-Horeya” which translates to “Voice of Freedom,” made famous by performances at Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the height of the demonstrations there. By the end of the overpoweringly beautiful night, the crowd was up and dancing, connecting to the artists’ energy, and cherishing their presence.

Prior to September’s Community Café, IMAN’s Director of Arts and Culture Asad Jafri predicted that “from Arooj’s Sufi-inspired ballads, to Al Sarah’s unique voice, to Wust El Balad’s fun and lively music, audiences will stay mentally, spiritually and physically engaged throughout the night.” That is exactly what happened that night.

You can see photos from the show here. Look out for the next Community Café coming up in 2012!

Community Development Track: Engaging a Community

Out of IMAN’s 21 Community Ambassadors, I am 1 of 7 interns in the Community Development track. In this track, our projects share the common theme of being tools for community development: we aim to unite and organize the community through encouraging community members’ activism and involvement.

Our first project was to write letters to politicians informing them of our goals. We wrote to politicians who represent Chicago’s Southwest side as well as those of our own wards and districts, aiming to increase awareness and earn support. We have also been collaborating with the two other tracks (Arts & Culture and Health & Wellness) to organize a repurposing community space event that will take place on Saturday, April 16th. Additionally, the Community Development track is planning a mural project that will serve as a community-organizing tool. Community members will paint this mural on large boards and we hope that the images will bring awareness of foreclosed housing in the area. Finally, our largest project is a documentary that we are preparing to show in May. This documentary will focus on 4 issues: health and wellness, education, poverty, and safety and include interviews with business owners, students, and other community members. We believe their personal stories will bring life to the issues. The documentary will not only present problems, but also our actions toward solving these problems and success stories.

Planning the projects and events is just one aspect of the Community Ambassador program. As strange as it sounds, I did not expect to “learn” as much as I did so far in this internship. Each group meeting and task comes with a new set of skills, everything from communication and teamwork to leadership and time management, and an increased passion for making a difference. Watching how our grassroots efforts can join people of different faiths together and unite a community only renews our passion to keep working and to challenge ourselves to achieve higher goals. Come to our future events and watch us transform these skills, tasks, and goals into successful projects.