At a time of political rhetoric over Islam in America, a multi-cultural group of European musicians has been touring the U.S. playing sacred Islamic songs.
The tour ends Thursday in Stockton with a performance at University of the Pacific.
The group is a quartet called the Al Firdaus Ensemble.
I sat down with two group members earlier this week.
Ali Keeler: My name’s Ali Keeler. I’m the violinist and one of the singers.
Mohammed Domingeuz: My name is Mohammed Dominguez. I was born in Caracas, Venezuela. And the function that I have in Al Firdaus is to play drums and make choirs (sing) as well.
Steve Milne: Ali, you’re originally from England. But the group is based in Spain – what part?
Ali Keeler: We’re based in Granada. It’s an amazing place. There’s a real collaboration going on with flamenco, Andalucie, Arabic. And I ended up there a few years ago and it was just amazing to be suddenly brought into contact with all these musicians.
Steve Milne: You perform Islamic sacred music. But how would you describe your music? It’s not strictly traditional.
Ali Keeler: It draws from the various Sufi traditions. But because it has these different elements, it has an original flavor.
Mohammed Dominguez: For me personally, every single time we sit down on a stage to play, it’s a beautiful opportunity to go deeper inside my heart, inside myself and contemplate the divine.
Steve Milne: Mohammed what’s this tour been like for you? I mean you're touring the U.S. at a time when there’s anti-Muslim political rhetoric happening here.
Mohammed Dominguez: Maybe you could have some sectors of the U.S. society that think that way. But honestly, my impression is that the major part of the people are really open-minded about cultural, about universality and about the art we are bringing with our work.
Steve Milne: Ali, how about you? What were you expecting?
Ali Keeler: I was worried because of the kind of fear mongering that we would have difficulties coming into the U.S. because we do Islamic music. So yeah, I was worried but pleasantly surprised. We’ve been welcomed everywhere.
Mohammed Dominguez: And I think maybe this tour could be very positive. Hopefully to keep coming to the U.S.A. and I think the political things have nothing much to do with our work, with our mission. There are many problems around the world. But I think this spirit of oneness, of love, of beauty in all the traditions of the world will be finally victorious.
The Al Firdaus Ensemble performs tonight at 7:30 in the Morris Chapel at University of the Pacific in Stockton.