On April 23, celebrated Middle Eastern musician Amir Vahab will perform a free concert at St. Matthew’s Cathedral at 104 S. Fourth St. This performance is in association with the “ABRAHAM: Out of One, Many” exhibition, which is currently on display at St. Matthew’s Cathedral.
Vahab’s performance will punctuate the peace-building exhibition. Vahab is one of New York City’s most commemorated deliverers of Middle Eastern folk, traditional and Sufi music. He and his ensemble perform Sufi and folkloric music in order to draw the listener’s attention to the spiritual dimension of existence.
Performed in multiple languages, the April 23 concert and talk will weave together spoken word and songs set to the 13th and 14th Century poetry of Rumi, Hafiz, and Yunus Emre.
“Sufism is the mystical part of Islam,” Vahab said, adding that it focuses on internal meditation and the oneness of humanity. It is about unity, and about unconditional love for all people. He said that Sufi songs often reference Jesus, as well as other saints and prophets.
“Part of it is meditative and reflective. Part of it is celebratory,” Vahab said of Sufi music. He explained that many people often dance to the music in celebration and joy.
Vahab began his music studies at an early age. By his late teens, he was an accomplished musician and music teacher. In 1981, he moved to his current home in New York City where he formed the Amir Vahab Ensemble to perform both the mystical music of the Sufis and the folkloric music of different regions of Iran and Turkey.
In his work, Vahab wants to illustrate the beauty of Iranian traditional music, which he believes is part of the global heritage. He also works on new approaches to traditional music in order to attract the younger generations of music enthusiasts.
The New York Times has referred to Vahab as the “ambassador for a silenced music.” He explained that this was for two reasons. The first reason is because Sufi mystics incorporate interior chanting, which is silent.
The second reason harkens back to the beginnings of the Iranian Revolution that occurred 42 years ago. For about a year after the revolution, Vahab said that the Iranian government tried to silence all music. He was living in London at the time, and performing traditional Persian songs.
“Silencing music is like saying ‘don’t drink water’ or ‘don’t breath oxygen.’ It’s impossible to do. People are always going to listen to music no matter what,” Vahab said. Not long after its revolution, Iran eased its restrictions on music. Vahab said that now, Iranian music is better and more diverse than ever.
Vahab explained that he does his best to bring people together across many faiths. In a time great anxiety, he hopes that people will unite their hearts, and focus on deeper similarities rather than less important differences.
“We are experiencing troubling times around the world,” Vahab said. He noted that people have been forced to refocus on things that are truly important. For him, those important things include family, friends, and good music.
ABOUT THE EXHIBIT
“ABRAHAM: Out of One, Many” is a peace-building exhibition that originally premiered in Rome, Italy in 2019. It has since traveled throughout Europe and the United States. The exhibition is organized by CARAVAN, an international arts non-profit affiliated with the Episcopal Church, and curated by the Rt. Reverend Paul-Gordon Chandler, the Bishop of the Diocese of Wyoming and founding president of CARAVAN. The exhibit focuses on what Jews, Christians, and Muslims have in common because of their shared ancestor, Abraham, whose name translates to “father of many.” It features paintings from three renowned Middle Eastern artists who represent the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.
Chandler notes that Abraham’s legacy is one of compassion, sacrificial love, and embracing “the other.” In the three faith traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, followers are referred to as the “children of Abraham.” He is seen as a model of hospitality, and welcoming of strangers.
ATTEND THE CONCERT
“Sufi Songs of Love: Celebrating Abraham, Sarah and Hagar” is free and open to the public. No tickets are required. The performance will occur at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, April 23 at St. Matthew’s Cathedral at 104 S. Fourth St. For those who would prefer to watch via livestream, the concert will be streamed live on The Episcopal Church in Wyoming’s YouTube channel.