The acoustically vibrant concert halls of Lisbon’s Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation provided an exuberant setting for the inaugural celebration of the Aga Khan Music Awards, which took place 29-31 March 2019 in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan, Prince Amyn Aga Khan and His Excellency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the President of Portugal, who joined musicians and music lovers from around the world. The Music Awards recognise exceptional creativity, promise, and enterprise in music performance, creation, education, preservation and revitalisation in societies across the world in which Muslims have a significant presence. From a pool of some 300 nominees, the Awards Master Jury selected nine laureates and 14 finalists in the Performance category to receive prizes, award trophies and professional development grants. In observance of World Music Day, the Music Awards secretariat asked laureates to reflect on the significance of the Awards. Edited versions of their responses appear below.
"As a composer, it was a great honour to receive the award in the field of music creation. In difficult times for the entire Muslim world, the Music Awards do a great job of bringing different countries, nations, religions and cultures closer together. Building upon the rich, centuries-old cultural traditions of the peoples of the East, the Music Awards have a great impact by supporting the mutually enriching sharing of creative ideas emanating from peoples of different professions and worldviews."
"In an era when everything in music seems so easy, when there’s pressure to be immediately successful, when there’s so little time for going deeper, and when popularity on the Internet is the most important, this prize is for me an encouragement to continue my journey toward the sources of this [Persian] music, and to continue transmitting it in all of its abundant and infinite richness."
"The AKMA ceremony provides an international forum for individuals and institutions that are shaping the future of music, both through new conceptions of its development and by implementing these concepts in concrete musical practice. It’s important for thinkers and artists to see their ideas resonating with the ideas of colleagues worldwide – to step outside their hermetic worlds into the larger international artistic community. For laureates, the Awards offer international recognition, which can improve conditions for their work in their own countries. In selecting winners, the jury surveyed the present situation of music and established an artistic, aesthetic and ethical orientation for the global artistic community. When you study someone else’s creative work, you learn and become spiritually richer."
"Guardians of ancient wisdom within the art of sound deserve recognition and reward for their outstanding achievements. Far more than simply representing forms of sonic exoticism, their craft is crucial, and is correlated to the survival of Mother Earth."
"The continuous support that the Aga Khan Music Initiative has been providing for music is a real gift. With the creation of the Music Awards, they are providing music with visibility and recognition at the highest level, and this creates a framework for collaboration and great musical vibes."
"Receiving the award is first of all an honour for the recipient, for whom it provides the delicious sensation of being recognised by the world around him and offers serious recognition for an artist’s years of work and effort. In my own case, it is an even greater pleasure and honour to be the first kora player from Mali to receive such a prize. Many people in this world don't know what a kora is, and my receipt of the award puts the kora in a beautiful light. It’s so important that this ancestral instrument remain in the cultural tradition of my country and that kora music be disseminated to other countries around the world for future generations."
"This, to my knowledge, is the first award to be given to performers of classical modal music [maqām]. For me, this represents the recognition of a great tradition that was almost totally ignored and neglected for nearly a full century. This classical modal music evolved in Egypt and its surrounding region – an area that is now divided into many countries where nationalism and racism have made people forget their unified past. I am more than honoured to try to bring this music back, not as a “museum” but in a living form, and to continue composing and transmitting music to new generations who are able to compose and perform and keep this music alive as a contemporary art."