To the Eastern peoples who carried their entire cultures with them from one encampment to another, the Caravanserai was more than a place to rest at night or share music, news and companionship — it was the hub from which that culture made its way into the world beyond the desert heat and haze.
In an age when cell phones topple entrenched rulers — and the heat of information flow often serves only to heighten the haze of cultural differences — the Caravanserai lives again, as a traveling cultural engagement program. Using the arts as a point of entry, it’s a slate that’s designed to open and expand the dialogue between American communities and contemporary Muslim societies.
Coordinated by the Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization Arts Midwest on behalf of the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, and with the support of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Caravanserai: A Place Where Cultures Meet is formatted as a series of performing arts and film residencies that put the spotlight on the art and artists of Pakistan, a nation with a complex and ever-evolving relationship with the United States. Here in the 2011-2012 season, the area served by Monmouth University is the region’s exclusive Caravanserai for this cultural connection.
This past October, the University’s Pollak Theatre was the setting for an inaugural Caravanserai event that paired the venerable vocal artists of Qawal Najmuddin Saiffudin and Brothers (on the centuries-spanning troupe’s first American tour) with the Pakistani percussion mastery of the Tari Khan Ensemble. For all those in attendance, it was a unique, even historic, evening of enlightening entertainment that bridged cultural gaps and cemented new friendships through the joy and power of music — and on the night of Saturday, March 31, the Caravanserai returns to the West Long Branch campus.
Headlining the 8 p.m. concert is a second-generation recording artist and actor who, perhaps more than any other Pakistani pop star, builds bridges between the old and the new. Known for putting a contemporary spin on traditional Punjabi folk songs, Arif Lohar has released more than 150 albums, performed for appreciative audiences from London to North Korea, and remains hugely famous in the UK’s Pakistani community. The son of Punjabi folk icon Alam Lohar will take the Pollak stage with his acclaimed touring band and his trademark chitma — a percussion instrument that resembles a pair of tongs with bells.
Opening the show will be the young Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab, a Boston-based native of Lahore whose mastery of multiple languages (Urdu and Punjabi as well as fluent English) and traditional musical styles is augmented by her experiences in America (she graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in sound engineering) — making her a perfect fit for Caravanserai’s themes and format. She’ll be joining Arif Lohar’s band for a song or two, in addition to performing her own solo set.
In addition to the March 31 concert at the Pollak Theatre, the artists will be participating in residency programs at primary, secondary and high school locations throughout the region as well as community organizations and colleges. Acting as ambassadors of Pakistan they will introduce students to their culture and traditions through music.
The Caravanserai program continues with an April 10, 2012 appearance by Palestinian-American poet, novelist and singer Naomi Shihab Nye at Pollak Theatre.
The Center for the Arts at Monmouth University is proud to have been selected as one of the participating host entities for the inaugural year of Caravanserai: A Place Where Cultures Meet. For our faculty and administrators, it’s a continuation of our quest to bring the most diverse and unique slate of arts offerings to our own corner of the world — and to the people of Monmouth County and central New Jersey, it’s a chance to gain a new perspective and appreciation of a fast-changing culture that remains as fascinating to Americans as it is mysterious.
To purchase tickets, please contact the Monmouth University Performing Arts Box Office at 732-263-6889, or online at www.monmouth.edu/arts. To schedule an interview, please contact Eileen Chapman at 732-571-3512.
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Media contact: Petra Ludwig at 732-263-5507