Winners picked for $500,000 Aga Khan music prize

Malian singer and guitarist Afel Bocoum

Malian singer and guitarist Afel Bocoum.

Photo credit: AFP

Tanzanian composer and singer Yahya Hussein Abdalla is among the winners of this year’s Aga Khan Music Awards.

The prize recognises exceptional creativity, promise and enterprise in music in societies across the world in which Muslims have a significant presence.

Mr Abdalla, a composer of devotional songs and reciter of the Qur’an from Dar es Salaam, was on the list dominated by Asian musicians.

The two other Africans are Malian singer and guitarist Afel Bocoum and Coumabne Mint Ely Warakane, a singer and harp player from Mauritania.

Abdallah composes and sings in Swahili and some of Tanzania’s 126 local languages.

On the other hand, Niafunké-born Bocoum’s music combines acoustic guitar with local instruments to echo the sound of “desert blues” in an earthier, tradition-based style.

The same can be said of Warakane, who uses the ardin (harp) to liven up and bring out a traditional feel in performing Mauritanian griots music.

The laureates were recognised for engaging with contemporary social and environmental issues while sustaining and developing musical traditions.

Other winners include Zakir Hussain (India), who won the special Lifetime Achievement award for his highly visible model of enlightened cross-cultural musicianship. The model has elevated the status of the tabla in India and around the world through countless artistic collaborations, concert tours, commissions, recordings and film scores.

Zakir is joined by fellow Indian Asin Khan Langa, a Sarangi player, singer, composer and community activist who performs Sufi poetry set to traditional and newly composed melodies.

Afghan Daud Khan Sadozai was also honoured for being a leading proponent of the Afghan rubab. He was cited for having a major impact on the preservation, development and dissemination of Afghan music worldwide.

Ms Yasamin Shahhosseini (Iran) was recognised for reimagining the place of the oud in Iranian music through her innovative compositions and improvisations.     

Pakistani Zarsanga, known as the queen of Pashtun folklore, landed the award for her career-long devotion to the orally transmitted traditional music of tribal Pashtuns.

The list is completed by Peni Candra Rini (Indonesia) and the United Kingdom’s Soumik Datta, a Sarod player who fuses his training in Hindustani classical music with pop, rock, electronica and film soundtracks to raise awareness about urgent social issues including climate change, refugees and mental health.

Special mentions went to Dilshad Khan (India), Golshan Ensemble (Iran), Sain Zahoor (Pakistan), Seyyed Mohammad Musavi and Mahoor Institute (Iran) and Zulkifli and Bur’am (Aceh, Indonesia).

The Aga Khan Music Awards Master Jury also named Musallam al-Kathiry as the winner of a special award for Excellence in Service to Omani Musical Heritage.

Mr al-Kathiry, a music researcher, arts manager, performer and composer from Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, has made important contributions to the collection, documentation, preservation and dissemination of Omani music.

The winners of the triennial award will be honoured at a ceremony in Muscat between October 29 and 31.

The award recipients will share a prize fund of $500,000 (Sh60 million) and get opportunities to expand the impact of their work and develop their careers.

These include commissions for new works, recording contracts and support for pilot education initiatives with the goal of providing recognition for today’s generation of artists and inspiring and helping a new generation of performers and composers in the East and West.

The recipients were selected by an independent Master Jury from nominations by 200 music specialists around the world.

The Master Jury consisted of six distinguished arts professionals from Azerbaijan, Bahrain, India, Turkey, Tunisia and the United States.

They were Shaikha Hala Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, Divya Bhatia, Rachel Cooper, Yurdal Tokcan and Dhafer Youssef.

In naming the laureates, the Master Jury expressed its desire to support as many outstanding nominees as possible from the geographically and culturally diverse pool of close to 400 nominations in a time of urgent need for musicians and music educators.

“While contributing to the preservation and ongoing development of musical heritage, many of the laureates draw on the power of music to raise awareness about social and environmental issues,” said a statement from the jury.

The Aga Khan Music Awards reflect the conviction of His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims, that music can serve as a cultural anchor, deepening a sense of community, identity and heritage, while simultaneously reaching out in powerful ways to people of different backgrounds.

They were established in 2018 by His Highness the Aga Khan.

They serve to fill a unique cultural need by recognising and developing exceptional creativity and promise in music and music education in societies across the world.

“No other award or prize focuses on the constellation of devotional music and poetry, indigenous classical music, traditional folk music, and tradition-inspired contemporary music that has flourished in cultures shaped by Islam.”