Jubilee Arts Festival

I recently had the honor of performing at the Jubilee Arts Festival, a two-day event held at the Pasadena Convention Center. The festival is an international program that features the Jamat’s global artistic talents and expressions, highlighting the cultural diversity of the Ismaili community around the world.

The festival not only showcased a variety of talent in dance, filmmaking, literary arts, musical performance, visual arts, poetry, graphic design, and more, it also offered chances for festival attendees and artists to engage with one another in activities through workshops and interactive sessions. 

As for my contribution to the festival, I performed my original song “Sailing the Sahara,” which is about the beauty of unity through diversity. Joining me on my custom built chromatic gamelan saron was Sue Arunasalam, who, coincidentally, is one of the earliest members of my favorite gamelan group, Rhythm in Bronze; also joining us was Danny Shamoun on the nay (Arabic flute).

On stage, I wore a songket, which is something I often do when I perform live. Songket is a fabric that belongs to the brocade family of textiles and is found in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and India, each with its own distinctive style.  The festival provided a large screen for translations, which came in handy since the lyrics in my song are half Malay and half English.

As a performer, it’s always fun to watch other performers warming up before going on stage, and there were plenty of musicians and dancers doing as much at the festival. I particularly enjoyed listening to a group of Indian musicians with traditional instruments such as a sarod (lute), tabla (Indian drum), and harmonium (pump organ) jamming together before taking the stage.

There was also a wonderful dance performance by a group of older Indian ladies, each in traditional Indian attire and carefully balancing traditional Indian pots atop their heads. It was a joy to see so many festival participants in their gorgeous, colorful, and intricately detailed traditional costumes.  

As for the exhibitions, I especially liked the visual arts offerings and particularly liked an art installation of a giant collage consisting of photos of performers and participants from past festivals. There were also many paintings and sculptures and some beautiful and innovative artwork created by children. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see any of the films.

All in all, it was a truly magical day. It was a privilege to perform at such a lively, inclusive festival, and I appreciated the opportunity to share my music with the local Ismaili community. Not only was the audience’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to my music a thrill, but afterward several people approached me to say how much they loved my message of unity through diversity and how my music incorporated both modern and traditional elements.

I enjoyed seeing all the other talented participants in their beautiful music and dance performances, seeing all the gorgeous artwork and learning about yet another culture. All the hard work by the festival committee and volunteers certainly paid off, as it was clear the festival was a success and that a good time was had by all who attended.