Black and Muslim choirs unite for “Art Against All Odds”
THE SANTA CLARA
February 9, 2017
Amidst the marches, Facebook rants and disappointing leadership of the American government, “Art Against All Odds” seeks to be a venue for hope and solidarity. On Feb. 11, the Mission Church will play host to a cultural concert by Zawaya Aswat Ensemble and Vukani Mawethu. The performance will highlight unity between black and Muslim communities.
Founded in 2003 by Nabila Mango, Zawaya is a non-profit organization increasing awareness of multicultural discourse and offering a genuine image of Arab-Americans through the use of art. Since 2013, they’ve been working with Vukani Mawethu, a black gospel choir from Oakland, on various inter-community projects to sing for justice. The idea of art as a form of resistance comes from a long tradition of oral protest for Vukani.
“We sing songs from the Anti-Apartheid movement taught to us by James Madhlope Phillips, an exiled South African freedom fighter,” Vukani leader Andrea Turner said. “We also come out of the Civil Rights movement—singing not only freedom songs, but gospel and spirituals.”
On Dec. 4, the Aswat Ensemble and Vukani gave the first performance of “Art Against All Odds.” The historical targeting of black community and Muslim communities inspired the concept of tying the two together. Current political and social trends also made the connection all the more obvious to Zawaya and Vukani. They focused on the theme of inter-community collaborations as a way of overcoming and fighting back against the increasing intolerance faced by many minorities in America today.
“Islamophobia is not an alternative fact,” Nabila said. “It’s real and it’s on the rise. Institutional racism is an obstacle that Black Americans have faced on a daily basis for centuries and Muslims are currently facing because of increasing intolerance.”
Their first “Art Against All Odds” concert successfully drew an audience of over 600 people, a response so overwhelmingly positive that they wanted to tour the show. Santa Clara Professor Farid Senzai introduced Nabila to Danielle Aguilar from the Office for Multicultural Learning. The two began collaborating to bring the performance to Santa Clara.
“We felt that as a Jesuit campus it was important important to be able to highlight the celebration of two groups of people that are currently very marginalized and have a lot of negative connotations associated with them,” Danielle said.
The only space on campus that could accommodate the event was the Mission Church and that brought up the complicated question of what it would mean to host an Islamic performance there. Conversations were held between staff and Campus Ministry but they decided hosting them would be a relevant and powerful experience for students.
“Our Jesuit values call us to engage in new perspectives to understand our community and that includes our black and muslim student staff and faculty,” Danielle said. “That’s the first step to creating the equity and justice we want.”
Those in attendance can expect to hear collaborative performances of songs in English, Turkish and Arabic that represent both communities. They will be singing music they consider sacred, including Gospel, Sufi and Islamic Sacred Music, Black Spirituals and Civil Rights songs.
“I would describe ‘Art Against All Odds’ as an inspiring tribute to unity, freedom of expression, love and faith in God,” Nabila said. “We hope that ‘Art Against All Odds’ highlights the importance of inter-community cooperation and that it encourages more communities to become involved in projects like this.”
Looking forward, Zawaya and company already have more performances of “Art Against All Odds” lined up and have a goal to bring it to every county in the Bay Area. Their next collaboration continues the spirit of intersectionality as they celebrate San Jose’s “Day of Remembrance” with the Japanese Community on Feb. 19.
“I hope that people come away from the experience with a greater understanding and appreciation of the rich and diverse musical heritage of these two minorities,” Nabila said. “Our goal is for people to leave the concert feeling uplifted and to see that despite our differences we can work together to create a beautiful and inspiring experience.”
Contact Perla Luna at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.