Titled “Bilal’s Songs: Mixing and Re-Mixing the African Diaspora and Islamic World – A conversation with Rhiannon Giddens, Dr. Omar Ali, and Francesco Turrisi,” the event will be held Monday, Sept. 10, 6-8 p.m., in the EUC Auditorium at UNCG. Admission is free and the public is welcome to attend.
The event comes in the wake of the North Carolina Folk Festival and will further delve into the ways in which African Americans have shaped musical traditions here and are the products of multiple traditions, including Muslim-influenced cultures and people from across the world.
Giddens, a UNCG alumna, is a Grammy winning musician and recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship. Her solo music and her music with the Carolina Chocolate Drops has explored black musical history.
Ali, dean of UNCG’s Lloyd International Honors College and professor of Comparative African Diaspora History, explores the making of the African Diaspora in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds from the early modern period to the present.
Turrisi, a pianist and multi-instrumentalist described as a “musical alchemist” and a “musical polyglot,” will perform with Giddens at the NC Folk Festival.
The three will be exploring the intersection of the global African Diaspora and Islam musically and otherwise. In particular they’ll be looking at the ways in which music has transmitted and transformed the cultures and sensibilities of Africans and people of African descent, among others, in Muslim influenced lands and societies. “We’ll begin our journey in Arabia with Bilal Ibn Rabah, the first muezzin (person who calls Muslims to prayer), and journey across East Africa, the Maghreb, into the Mediterranean, and Iberia, before moving to the shores of the Americas,” says Ali.
Ali explains that he has talked with Giddens in the past half-year several times about the history of Islam and the African Diaspora. He has also talked with Francesco, an accomplished Italian musician who is steeped in Islamic influences of music in the Mediterranean. “I suggested we bring the public into the conversation,” he says. “So that’s what we’re doing—continuing the conversation.”
The event is sponsored by UNCG Lloyd International Honors College, UNCG’s Islamic Studies Research Network, UNCG’s African American and African Diaspora Studies Program.
Visual: a 16th-century painting of Bilal Ibn Rabah appearing in the Siyer i-Nibei Turkish epic. The visual appears in an online exhibition Omar Ali curated at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of The New York Public Library.