IMAN Celebrates Muslim Voices and Movements for Freedom

Dandana Crowd at Millennium Park Chicago was alive with the sound of Muslim voices from across the globe on June 16th and 17th, with back-to-back IMAN Arts & Culture events. Dandana – A Celebration of Muslim Voices took place at Millennium Park on Thursday, and Community Café – A Celebration of Freedom was held at the South Shore Cultural Center on Friday.

Chicagoans filled Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion for Dandana, with young and old alike rising to their feet to see performances by Egypt’s famed pop star Hakim, as well as The Alim Qasimov Ensemble, renowned musicians from Azerbaijan.

Following the instrumental stylings of The Alim Qasimov Ensemble, the park came to life with Hakim’s arabesque beats and vibrant vocals. The sounds of the pop legend and his band filled the evening well into the night when his performance came to a close and the crowd dispersed. The outdoor concert took place as part of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events’ “Music Without Borders” series.

Omar Offendum, host Tasleem Firdausee and DJ Ms Dia at Communtiy CaféSixteen-year-old special guest Aisha Ibrahim set the tone at the following evening’s Community Café, with spoken word pieces on freedom and the Arab Spring. Latin ska fusion band Los Vicios de Papá began the night’s main performances, entertaining the audience with its high energy, reggae-influenced beats and multi-lingual lyricism.

The hall soon switched from the sounds of Spanish to Arabic when R&B pop trio Tiraline took the stage. Visiting the U.S. from their hometown of Safi, Morocco, Tiraline brought a palpable energy to the event, and the audience grew in size as the night progressed. Just as with Dandana the night before, the Community Café comprised a beautifully diverse audience, with individuals from an array of cultures and communities gathering for the experience.

Following Tiraline’s performance, the Community Café came to an intermission as the crowd gathered for the evening prayer of maghrib. After the prayer, the audience took their seats for a final performance by Syrian-American hip hop artist Omar Offendum, whose words shed a poetic light upon the ongoing uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East, and the role of youth in impacting change. At times light-hearted and at others solemn, his performance closed the night with both laughter and insight.

The next Community Café is set to take place in September in conjunction with the Chicago World Music Festival.

Community Café: Healing Planet Rock

On Friday, February 25th, IMAN held its first Community Café of 2011 at the Chicago Urban Arts Society in the Pilsen neighborhood. The event was hosted by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, author of “Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet,” who enlightened the audience and performers alike throughout the night on the significance of being conscious about the environment.

The night started off with a spoken-word piece by IMAN volunteer Tabina Bajwa, followed by the first musical performance of the night, jazz/hip-hop group Zzaje. Their sound led smoothly into a performance by Seasunz + J. Bless, a duo that recently released a green hip-hop album.

Off-stage, graffiti artist eL Seed and Chicago artist Savera Iftikhar were busy creating a work of art throughout the night. In light of the night’s green theme, they painted a piece on a canvas made of old t-shirts, converting the would-be useless clothing into a colorful, textured background for their piece. Friends and audience members also participated in the live artwork. By the end of the night, the audience was awed by the finished piece.

Surprise special guests Brother Ali and Big Samir of The Reminders hit the stage briefly, bringing the audience to their feet. The highlight of the evening came in the form of Yuna, an indie, acoustic artist who travelled all the way from Malaysia to grace this Community Café with her presence. Following their loud cheers and applause, the audience was struck silent as Yuna made her Chicago debut, captivating everyone in the room with her enchanting voice and acoustic guitar.

Two-time ‘Louder Than A Bomb’ spoken-word competition-winner Ainee Fatima performed a moving piece reminding the audience of the struggle and bravery of those participating in the revolutions occurring around the world. The night returned to hip-hop with artist Baraka Blue and DJ Anas Canon, and came to a close as several of the night’s performers and host Ibrahim Abdul-Matin returned to the stage for a jam session.

“I left feeling a strong sense of community. It was really inspiring to see so many different people from different backgrounds come out for a good cause and have such a good time,” said audience-member Omer Mohammad, a student from Qatar visiting Chicago on study abroad. The event’s turnout was immense, with many being turned away at the door due to the building being filled to capacity.

Community Café: World Music Festival

On September 26th, artists from Senegal and Egypt joined IMAN at the South Shore Cultural Center for a special edition of Community Café. The event was held in collaboration with the Chicago World Music Festival, a week-long festival that brings diverse artists from around the world to a variety of Chicago venues.

Kicking off the night was Meta & the Cornerstones, a six-member reggae and hip-hop group representing Senegal and various other nations. The group performed a compelling afro-beat set list infused with multi-lingual lyrics. Hosts Seemi Choudhry and Sadia Nawab, two of IMAN’s long-time youth leaders, led the audience through the Community Café experience and following Meta’s appearance were brief performances by spoken word artists Liza Garza and Mark Gonzales.

Next came headliner Riad & Takht, an ensemble of musicians from Egypt. Made up of composer and violinist Riad Abdel-Gawad and his ensemble, or ‘takht,’ the group’s Middle Eastern instrumental music provided a distinct and complimentary contrast to Meta’s African rhythms. Alongside the headliners, DJ Man-o-Wax entertained the audience throughout the night with an international, eclectic fuse of rhythms.

As IMAN’s Community Café took place in the midst of flood relief efforts in Pakistan, the event was also held to raise awareness and funds for Pakistan’s dire situation as a result of this historic flood.