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Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries Present Transcendence: A Virtual Sufi Music Festival

Join the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art for a free online music festival featuring world-renowned musicians from India, France, Iran, and Morocco.

From left to right, Transcendence performers Anwar Khan, Walid Ben Selim, Sahar Mohammadi, and Zainab Afailal (all images courtesy the artists)

Through dance, recitation, poetry, and prayer, Sufis have long engaged with the spiritual practices of dhikr (remembrance) and sama (listening) to gain transcendence and enlightenment. Passed down from teacher to student for generations, the traditions of Sufi music serve as chains of spiritual knowledge.

Transcendence is a free four-part series featuring celebrated artists who underline the regional richness of the Sufi musical tradition. Performances take place at noon every Wednesday from September 16 through October 7, 2020. 

Sufi Songs From Manganiyar and Langa Communities, Marwar, Rajasthan, India

Led by world-renowned Anwar Khan, masters of qawwali demonstrate a form of Sufi singing inspired by poetry. To convey devotional intensity, vocalists draw out phrases and repeat verses accompanied by rhythms of handclapping and drumming.

When: Wednesday, September 16, 12pm (EDT)
Where: Zoom

Spiritual Poems from the East

The great Islamic poets and Sufi poets of Morocco inspire singer Walid Ben Selim. Musician Marie Marguerite Cano accompanies the singer on the harp. Ben Selim sings and recites his own poetry and experiments with spoken word, rap, and hip hop. 

When: Wednesday, September 23, 12pm (EDT)
Where: Zoom

Persian Mystic Songs From Omar Khayyam and Farid al-Din Attar

Sahar Mohammadi sings of love and longing as presented by Persian Sufi poets Omar Khayyam and Farid al-Din Attar. Mohammadi’s powerful voice, coupled with a deep knowledge of Persian lyrical poetry, offers a nuanced and original interpretation of classical Sufi music. 

When: Wednesday, September 30, 12pm (EDT)
Where: Zoom

The Andalusian Samâ of Tétouan

Zainab Afailal performs Sufi-inspired Andalusian songs from southern Spain and Morocco. She sings devotional music based on two forms of Arabic poetry — the muwashah and the Zajal — from eleventh- and twelfth-century Spain. Afailal performs in a mode for generations believed to be reserved only for male performers.

When: Wednesday, October 7, 12pm (EDT)
Where: Zoom

For more information on Transcendence: A Virtual Sufi Music Festival and to register for a performance, visit asia.si.edu.

This festival is made possible through support from the Lilly Foundation Religion and Cultural Institutions Initiative.