“Ahead of the premier festival in Manchester UK-scheduled for July 2022, Salaam Festival will produce a special preview concert at Manchester International Festival on 14th July 2021 at Manchester Central. This concert will feature a double header with performances by Sona Jobarteh and the Orchestral Qawwali Project featuring Abi Sampa and will be hosted by poet Muneera Williams. The concert brings together two musical disciplines steeped in centuries of tradition, the West African Griot tradition and the South Asian Qawwali tradition. As women, Sona and Abi are reimagining these forms which were historically passed down and performed exclusively by men. Their innovative contemporary approaches to the music and its performance are driving the continued expansion of their respective genres, inspiring listeners of all ages around the globe.” – Asad Ali Jafri

Muslim women have been one of the most contentious and focal points for anti-Muslim narratives as well as negative voices from within Muslim communities aiming to hide and hold women back from academic, cultural and in this case artistic advancement.

As a Cultural Producer and now Artistic Director for Salaam Festival I have spent approximately 15 years watching and experiencing the physical and digital onslaught that the international Muslim community has sustained from individuals, celebrities, politicians, media platforms, extremists and more.

However, behind this backdrop of immense negativity, a powerful number of artists and musicians have been reshaping the way the world perceives Muslims and Islam. Art and culture is one of the most valuable contributors to history and society, and can have a tremendous impact on future generations. Despite the barriers to enter the arts, an increasing amount of creatives are finding ways to redefine how we make Muslim culture relevant in the 21st century. This has all been possible without compromising on tradition and religious values. In fact, if anything, it creates new ways of responding to the modern and complex world of fast news and consumption.

Women have always been an integral and important part of what our faith and culture means and continue to have a crucial role in creating work that speaks to individuals who are seeking a sense of belonging amidst the confusion and insecurities of what we can and cannot be.

Salaam Festival has been a long awaited passion project born out of the pandemic which brought about death, social isolation and fear across the world. The Festival aims to bring new hope at a crucial time in human history to design and produce pioneering work through visual and performance arts. We are working with diverse artists and creatives from Manchester and the rest of the world in an attempt to showcase alternative narratives, identities and representation.

The special preview on 14 July 2021 is a window into the world and ambition of what we are looking to curate in Manchester and beyond.

Take a look at our artist bios below and visit salaamfestival.co.uk  for more information.


Artist bios:

Muneera Williams

Muneera is an international poet, cultural producer, writer, broadcaster and artist who works across disciplines, with words as her instrument. Currently she is writing her first play and her first published poetry collection. A frequent voice on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought.

Muneera is also an artist and community researcher at In-Between Time and a resident with Pervasive Media Studio. She co-founded Poetic Pilgrimage, Britain’s first Muslim female Hip-Hop and Spoken word duo, and continues to work expansively as a solo artist. Her poetry and commentary is looked to for its deep spiritual wisdom, authenticity and challenge.

Sona Jobarteh

The spirit of Sona Jobarteh’s musical work stands on the mighty shoulders of The West African Griot Tradition; she is a living archive of the Gambian people. With one ear on the family’s historic reputation, one on the all-important future legacy and her heart in both places, she is preparing a place today for the next generation. Her singing and Kora playing while fronting her band, spring directly from this tradition. The extent of her recognition today is evidenced by more than 16 million viewers on YouTube and considerable numbers on other digital platforms. All this despite singing in her native languages and keeping to her own path within the music industry.

Sona’s dedication to spreading powerful humanitarian messages through her songs and her stage performances makes her much more than a musician; she is active in social change and leads by her own example. Sona singlehandedly set up The Gambia Academy, a pioneering institution dedicated to achieving educational reform across the continent of Africa. This Academy is the first of its kind to deliver a mainstream academic curriculum at a high level, whilst also bringing the culture, traditions and history that belong to its students, to the front and centre of their everyday education. These efforts have gained her invitations to deliver speeches at high profile events around the world – including summits for the UN, the World Trade Organization and UNICEF.

Orchestral Qawwali Project

Abi Sampa | Rushil | Amrit Singh

The Orchestral Qawwali Project combines ancient islamic poetry and music with modern orchestral arrangements and production techniques. It is sung by Abi Sampa, produced and composed by Rushil and features the Dhamma Tabla by Amrit Dhuffer. Through its use of rich string sections and choral harmony, classical dance and traditional elements, the trio have brought a new lease of life to this beautiful and ancient art form.

Despite only beginning in 2020, the project has met with widespread critical acclaim, garnered support from the Arts Council and PRS and been the centrepiece of massive commercial campaigns around the world.