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Bradford Cathedral hosts Nasheed children’s choir

25 November 2022

Nasheeds have their origins in Sufi Muslim devotions

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Bradford Cathedral

Bradford Cathedral

BRADFORD CATHEDRAL hosted the first public performance of the newly formed Nasheed Choir of children’s voices at the end of last month, in a collaboration of vocal traditions that brought a Muslim art form to a place of Christian worship.

Nasheeds, described as “poetic songs of love, harmony, and peace”, have their origins in Sufi Muslim devotions, and are sung at celebrations and funerals. Raw emotion remains the hallmark of a westernised Nasheed, which has no tradition of polyphony.

One of its principal exponents, Hussnain Hanif, worked with the choral director Julian Evans to create the performance at Bradford. Both men are based in Pendle, in Lancashire, and each wanted to explore how their own choral traditions might interweave and inspire their own practices.

“This work has never been done before, as singing in harmony and choral form is not something that comes from the Middle Eastern or South Asian cultures,” Mr Hanif said. “It’s a very Western phenomenon. I am passionate about creating a new hybrid style of Nasheed singing that incorporates my three identities: being Muslim, British, with a Pakistani ethnicity.”

He told the BBC Sunday programme on Radio 4: “The work has been uncompromising. I normally work with students or adult choirs, and some of these children are as young as five. They take it like a sponge . . . after four weeks, they absolutely get it.

“The South Asian British community — boys especially — aren’t generally engaged in artistic practice. We have had so many success stories. Parents speak of the increased confidence in the children. We do want to build the confidence and effective communication of young people.”

He credited Mr Evans, who made choral arrangements in two-, three-, and four-part harmony from the Nasheeds, with feeling their raw emotions. “He knew what they were all about,” he said.

Many of the choristers present at the performance had never been in the cathedral before. It had been beautiful and mesmerising to hear them, he said. “I felt really honoured that the Bradford and West Yorkshire community accepted me and the Nasheed Choir, and really came out in force to support the young people to make their debut.”

The evening was also an opportunity for Jimmy Rotheram, a music leader at Feversham Primary School, in Bradford Moor — one of the most impoverished areas in the country — to emphasise the important part played by music in the school curriculum. His school has produced many young Muslim musicians.

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