theartsdesk.com, 3, April, 2019
The inaugural Aga Khan Music Awards, a three-day event held last weekend in Lisbon, celebrated nearly 20 years of wide-ranging work dedicated to the preservation of ancient and threatened cultures, an impressive programme of educational initiatives, and the encouragement of musical exchange and experiment in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
These awards are far removed from the world of the Eurovision Song Contest, the Grammys, MOBOs or other well-spun and marketed events: the notion of excellence, which lies at the heart of the Aga Khan Music Initiative, is connected to ideas and practices associated with social inclusion, identity and spirituality, with music and culture seen as integral parts of a wider notion of economic and social development. The Aga Khan, leader of the Shia Muslim Ismaili community, is very much involved, as is his brother Prince Amyn, and their shared vision and generosity inspire and make possible the many projects whose expressive vigour was evident in Lisbon the past weekend.
There were awards for a number of achievements – including “preservation, revitalisation, dissemination”, “social inclusion”, “education” and “music creation”, with startling performances from artists such as the politically engaged Tunisian singer Badiaa Bouhrizi, and the Azeri composer Frangiz AliZadeh, who played a piece inspired by ancient modes on a prepared piano, a combination that reflected the Music Initiative’s enlightened understanding that traditions can only survive if they are developed with an experimental sense of the present as well as respect for the past.
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