Flying on the Magic Carpet as Azra Sings
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Picture by Morris Simon
Sarajevo is thousands of miles away from the corner of 21 st and E Street Washington but as Azra sings at the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one is flying like a bird on the magic carpet – from Baghdad to Andalusian hills - through the streets of Sarajevo, Mostar, and Belgrade and all over the world. Who needs to ride on the Dreamliner or any other jet plan e , when the poet’s dreams come alive and one travels through time all over this beautiful world?
The guns of August 1914 unleashed by a maniac’s bullets have been silent for a very long time. But who wants to remember the bloody past – the World Wars, Srebrenica and all that gory stuff?
Grudges don’t build future but bridges do. The Embassy Series – founded by Jerome Barry – is an organization that builds bridges across cultural and religious divisions.
Soothing music and the sublime lyrics of poets connected the humanity gathered all around from different ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds. But for those who could not resist shedding some tears – moved by their emotions over the poetic words - there was the “Kleenex Corner” set up by Her Excellency Ambassador Jadranka Negodic. The joys were universal facilitated by the cultural bridge – made possible by the Embassy Series - and one heard many in the audience si ng along with Azra and her band of musicians.
Yes, languages matter but then again they also don’t. “Music is the international language of peace,” said Secretary of State John Kerry from an ornate room in the US Department of State building across the street last year. From a diplomatic perspective, it was US Diplomatic effort known as the Dayton Accords that brought an end to the carnage in the Balkan and peace in the region. Participation in the event by ambassadors from Croatia and Macedonia is an evidence of the peaceful environment that resulted from the US diplomatic efforts.
There are many beautiful embassies in Washington but none is closer to the US Department of State that the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Though, we were all here in what is known as Washington’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. But, there was nothing foggy on the crisp cold evening of November 7, 2014.
The beautiful views of Abraham Lincoln Memorial and the Potomac River from the US Institute of Peace, a short walk away go hand in hand with the appreciation of the beauty of the human spirit that gave refuge to the Jews of Andalusia in yesteryear. Azra sang like a bird Bembaša, which is considered the unofficial anthem of Sarajevo and is a devotional Hebrew song still heard in the Sarajevo Synagogue.
Azra came to the United States as a refugee and works as a psychologist in Boulder Colorado. She is a singer of traditional Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the program notes “her singing reflects the lyrical melancholy of Sevdah, intertwined with elements of Balkan folk and Gypsy Jazz.”
“Sevdah” is perhaps what “Ghazal” might be for the music lovers in Pakistan and India . With Sevdah, Azra has proved to be a captivating performer - “a dramatic mezzo-soprano, with unique ornamentation and expressive singing style.”
Her album “Azra Sings” contains 14 tracks of traditional songs from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Croatia and Serbia. With her beautiful voice, she has charmed audiences around the world, in concerts, academic events and vocal workshops.
“So which part of Lahore did you spend your childhood in? Gulberg?” asked Azra’s uncle. “Yes, Gulberg,” said a Pakistani writer.
“I don’t know if you have ever been to a place called ‘Murree’, in Pakistan?” asked Azra’s uncle again. “Yes, I spent part of my childhood there too.” So small is our world.
On the walk to the Foggy Bottom metro stop some were signing
“The shadows follow me
And the night won't set me free
But I don't let the evening
Get me down
Now that you're around me”
No it was not Perry Como or Don MacLean but perhaps the shadows of Omar Khayyam, Ghalib, Sheikh Saadi, Hafez and Rumi – they were all there, at least in spirit.