Music beyond boundaries

Syed Muthahar Saqaf
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Focus Zeyba Rahman, who represents India in the U.S. on the cultural front, works towards popularising our country's traditional musical forms in a big way. Syed Muthahar Saqaf

Committed:Zeyba Rahman.
Committed:Zeyba Rahman.

Zeyba Rahman, an Indian, has been chosen to represent the country in the U.S. on the cultural front. She is a connoisseur of cultures of other nations and has been the torchbearer of Indian art and heritage in the U.S. for the past few decades. She is a cultural entrepreneur widely recognised as a bridge-builder who works at the crossroads of culture and civic issues. She uses culture as a medium to empower and transform Indian art forms through targeted initiatives such as performing and visual arts, film and video.

Hailing from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, Zeyba's cultural voyage began in 1983 when she organised the U.S. debut tour of Ustad Faiyazuddin and Zahiruddin Dagar which received rave reviews at every stop.

Dedicated to art

Zeyba served as the chairperson of the renowned World Music Institute (WMI) for 18 long years. WMI is a non-profit organisation, dedicated to the promotion of dance and music from around the world, that present concerts. It encourages cultural exchange among nations and ethnic groups and works extensively with community groups and organisations including Indian, Iranian, Chinese, Latin American and Central Asian.

Thanks to Ms. Rahman, WMI has been able to promote a highly respected, long standing Indian music and dance. In 1997 she produced the Festival of India to commemorate India's 50{+t}{+h}year of Independence.

The Festival, held at New York's Carnegie Hall and Central Park among other venues, was a ground-breaking initiative that brought India's greatest master musicians and dancers together for the occasion and included Ustad Vilayat Khan and his sons Shujaat and Hidayat, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his sons, Zakir Hussain on the tabla, Balamurali Krishna, Ajoy Chakrobarty, Birju Maharaj, Pandit Jasraj and others.

Over 150 leading exponents, of various musical forms, from India, have presented concerts under the auspices of WMI. They include legendary artists of the South – Maharajapuram Santhanam, Bombay Jayashree, A. Kanyakumari, Lalgudi Krishnan, Kadri Gopalnath, A.K.C. Natarajan, T.V. Sankaranarayanan, K.S. Gopalakrishnan, M.S. Gopalakrishnan, Vaduvur S.N.R. Krishnamurti, Sudha Ragunathan, Lalgudi Jayaraman, T. N. Krishnan, Padmavathy Ananthagopalan, Vellore Ramabadran, Tiruchi Sankaran and Balambal Natarajan.

“All the programmes featuring Indian artists have always proved a big hit with the locals and this enabled us to bring more and more artists to the U.S. and popularise Indian traditional musical forms in a big way,” says Ms. Rahman with a sense of pride and satisfaction.

From 2007-09 she was a senior project advisor for the ‘Muslim Voices: Arts and Ideas Festival,' in New York.

With comprehensive responsibility, Ms. Rahman oversaw the development of the festival, guiding it at every stage from creating internal/external committees, advising on marketing and media strategies to working with diverse Muslim communities.

She served as a project director from 2009-10 for the planning phase of two parallel initiatives, Muslim Worlds, the Children's Museum of Manhattan's exhibition and the National Endowment for the Arts' Global Cultural Connections.

Ms. Rahman conceived and launched the New York Sufi Music Festival in July 2010 with special focus on India and Pakistan bringing together 48 of the finest Sufi musicians.

She has served as a creative consultant for public programmes of The Metropolitan Museum of Art's New Galleries for the Arts of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia from 2010. With across-the-board responsibility, she suggested several initiatives to celebrate the opening of the historic galleries. These include the specially created music CD, musical moments for the galleries audio guide, community initiatives, film programmes, panel discussions and performing arts programmes. She conceived and directed the inaugural concert, Qawwali/Gnaoua: Sacred musical meetings.

Additional programmes include ‘In the Footsteps of Babur: Musical Encounters' from the Land of the Mughals, and the panel titled Women and the Muslim World: Patrons, Artists, Muses and Instigators. She is the artistic director of the U.S. national Caravanserai: A Place Where Cultures Meet, a community engagement initiative, which brings Muslim cultures to the small U.S. communities.

Ms. Rahman serves as the director, Asia and North America Festival for Morocco-based Festival of World Sacred Music. The festival has been honoured by the U.N. as one of the seven most important events in the world for the Dialogue Amongst Civilisations. She is currently the curator of a programme for Lincoln Centre that will be launched in April 2012 and in serving as an artistic director for a new musical work for the famed BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), Next Wave Festival to be premiered in November 2012.

Past initiatives include working as artistic director of programmes with the World Bank and at the World Millennium Peace Summit for Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations.

Currently, she serves on the Steering Committee for the Independent Television Service's (ITVS) Diverse Muslim Voices and is an advisor to Artworks for Freedom.

Zeyba Rahman has been honoured by New York City's government for enriching the city's cultural life and has been the subject of two television profiles as a global cultural leader.

All the programmes featuring Indian artists have always been a hit with the locals and this enabled us to bring more artists to the U.S.



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