Aga Khan Music Initiative (AKMI) and The Other Classical Music

“The short-lived ‘world music’ boom may have brought little-known music to international attention, but the term itself perpetuates an old colonialist fallacy: that while Europe and America have ‚classical’ music, other societies – with the exception, perhaps, of North India – have only ‘folk’ music. But Europe has no monopoly on musical sophistication. It is humbling to learn what dizzy intellectual feats are demanded of classical musicians in Turkey, Thailand, and Java, for example. And it is fascinating to find out that the one thing, which unites almost all the world’s great traditions, is a common basis in improvisation – a gift which European musicians have largely lost. Yet, many of these musics are now under threat, not only through erosion by Western music (both popular and classical), but also through war and persecution. It is hard to believe that the music of Aleppo, where the beautiful muwashshah song tradition had unbrokenly survived for eight hundred years, until Assad’s barrel-bombs began to fall, will be revivable, when ‘peace’ of a sort does finally come. Classical music can die, so we should treasure the ones we have still got.”
(Michael Church, Old and New Music from the Ends of the Silk Route, 2016, 2)

Sebastian Schutyser Facebook FB Web Cover Blue Temple Red Dancer klein
© Sebastian Schutyser

In an age, where music traditions are vulnerable, a new performance programme is designed to celebrate inspiration and the classical traditions we still have. With new performance series, the Aga Khan Music Initiative (AKMI) presents rare artistic encounters that both celebrate and reimagine time-honoured musical meetings, as the initiative’s leading artists perform a newly-created repertoire of compositions, improvisations and contemporary arrangements inspired by tradition. A group of music innovators demonstrates the transmission of ancient musical traditions to a talented generation of performers, who are developing them in new directions, exemplifying musical creativity that has historically been inspired by the meeting of cultures.

The programme is curated by the Aga Khan Music Initiative (AKMI), an international arts and music education programme launched by His Highness the Aga Khan to support talented musicians and music educators working to preserve, transmit and further develop their musical heritage in contemporary forms. AKMI designs and implements a country-specific set of activities for each country into which it invests and works to promote the revitalization of cultural heritage.

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Contemporary Music from the Ends of the Silk Route: Andrea Piccioni, Basel Rajoub, Feras Charestan, Wu Man, Homayoun Sakhi, Salar Nader


Instrumen kleinIn November 2016, the programme New Music from Both Ends of the Silk Route was previewed in Dubai and Al Ain and later presented at Wigmore Hall in London, Mumbai, Hyderabad and at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India. The programme features a flexible line up of artists, who are some of AKMI’s most beloved artist-performers from China, Italy and Syria – a performance arranged for a unique combination of instruments which represent the Eastern and Western ends of the historical Silk Route, as well as ancient and contemporary musical cultures. These include the pipa, an instrument introduced to China in ancient times that originated in Central Asia, qanun, a core member of any Arabic taht, a variety of frame drums, one of the most ubiquitous instruments in the Muslim world, and saxophones, a European invention that became a universal instrument used by musicians from South India to South Africa to perform myriad forms of traditional, fusion and contemporary music.

The Aga Khan Music Initiative is an interregional music and arts education programme with worldwide performance, outreach, mentoring and artistic production activities. The Music Initiative is a programme of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The trust, in turn, serves as the cultural development agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the world’s largest private development networks, and the only one prioritizing cultural development on a par with economic and social development in all of its projects and commitments.

AKMI designs and implements a country-specific set of activities for each country into which it invests and works to promote revitalization of cultural heritage, both as a source of livelihood for musicians and as a means to strengthen pluralism in nations, where it is challenged by social, political and economic constraints. Through its work, the initiative strives to support exceptional artistic talent, promote the revival of historical connections among artists from Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa by organizing creative collaborations among artistic communities from these regions and disseminate results of this work through a global network of partnerships with educational institutions, arts presenters and music distributors. To this end, musicians in the Music Initiative’s artist roster participate in diverse kinds of performances ranging from concerts of traditional repertory to contemporary expressions of tradition-based art to interregional collaborations that feature talented artists from different countries in the Music Initiative’s regions of activity.
All Class Lesson Aga Khan Ensemble Hyderabad India 2017 klein
All class lesson Aga Khan Ensemble Hyderabad, India 2017

Education is at the centre of the Music Initiative’s work. The initiative focuses on developing and testing newly created teaching and learning methodologies, setting up teacher-training mechanisms, operating talent-support centres and presenting performance and artist-in-residence programmes that provide students an opportunity to experience the creative challenges of intercultural music-making. Residencies and workshops featuring musicians from the Music Initiative’s artist roster have been presented at many academic and cultural institutions throughout North America and Europe.

In 2015 AKMI supported the publication of The Other Classical Musics. Fifteen Great Traditions by Michael Church. The book has been awarded the RPS Music Award 2015.

In 2018, His Highness the Aga Khan announced the creation of the Aga Khan Music Awards. The Awards recognize exceptional creativity, promise and enterprise in music performance, creation, education, preservation and revitalisation in societies across the world, in which Muslims have a significant presence.

The Aga Khan Music Initiative strives with top-class musicians from the Near and Far East, Africa and the countries of the former Soviet Union to preserve the rich and varied heritage of classical music traditions from around the world and introduce them in Europe. From 15th to 17th February 2019, the AKMI visited Germany for the first time, presenting the multi-faceted classical music of the Silk Road in four concerts at the Konzerthaus Dortmund, including a school concert. Renowned musicians, such as the Chinese pipa player Wu Ma, the Syrian composer and musicianBasel Rajoub or Dutar and tanbur player Sirojiddin Juraev, combined music traditions of their countries with improvisation and borrowings from the Western jazz tradition in their performances. The multimedia concert Qyrq Qyz – Forty Girls reflected both musically and figuratively a centuries-old saga of Central Asia that could possibly change the Western view of women’s images of the East.

Concerts 2019:
11th of August 2019: Mosel Musikfestival – New Music from Both Ends of the Silk Road (Wu Man: pipa / Basel Rajoub: saxophone, duclar / Sirojiddin Juraev: dutar, tanbur / Feras Charestan: kanun / Abbos Kosimov: doira)


Projects Aga Khan Music Initiative 2020/2021

AKMI Milestones (video)

Find out more about current projects on the AKMI’s website and social media channels:
AKMI Website
AKMI on YouTube
AKMI on Facebook
AKMI on Twitter

Learn more about the instruments of the world.

Learn more about the acitivities of the Aga Khan Development Network.

AKMI 2017/18 Performance Programmes.