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  • Jones Family Singers & Riyaaz Qawwali – “Amazing Grace/Is karam ka”

    Camera: Ali Ali, David Barnes, Rameshwar Bhatt, Nadya Ellerhorst, Albert Tong, Charlie Weber
    Editor: Ali Ali

    As part of the 2023 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program Creative Encounters: Living Religions in the U.S., the Jones Family Singers and Riyaaz Qawwali took visitors on a spiritual journey through song. This interfaith collaboration centers two distinct genres: qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional singing from South Asia, and contemporary gospel, which merges traditional Christian hymns with the musical stylings of secular Black music.

    As Sonny Mehta, artistic director of Riyaaz Qawwali, explains, their concert highlights how “religious music lives in America.”

    Since 2019, the Houston-based musicians have been performing together to bridge the divide between African American and South Asian American communities by finding common ground through music.

    “When you see the Black and Brown come together, it says to the world that we’re unifying for a common cause,” says Bishop Fred Jones, founder of the Jones Family Singers. “And that is to bring humanity together.”

    This performance of “Amazing Grace,” a gospel standard, and “Is karam ka,” a na’at or praise song for the Prophet Muhammad, demonstrates the powerful artistry of both groups as well as the deeply felt dialogue they engage in.

    Michelle Banks is the lead curator of the Creative Encounters program.

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