By Bill Landauer

Four years ago, Kamal Bookwala ’20 fell for Riyaaz Qawwali.

Bookwala was in high school at the time, and she’d come to Lafayette’s campus to see the Texas band play its traditional South Asian music at Williams Center for the Arts.

“They were incredible,” says Bookwala, a geology and economics double major.

Even though Riyaaz Qawwali plays Sufi devotional music, “what I think is cool about the group is that the composers all come from different faiths,” she says. “It shows a lot of unity.”

But as thrilling as the concert had been, something was missing. The musicians sang and played their instruments on the Williams Center stage. The audience sat in their seats. Everyone is supposed to be closer.

So, Bookwala, working with fellow members of South Asian Students Association and the Tapestries program, brought Riyaaz Qawwali back to campus.

This time, the performance wasn’t on a stage, but rather a raised platform in the Marlo Room in Farinon College Center. The audience gathered around the performers.

It was a traditional Qawwali performance, which originates from present-day South Asia, Bookwala says. Musicians and audience members sit close to one another rather than standing.

“You lose part of the connection when the performers are on stage,” Bookwala says. “In traditional Qawwali music the idea was very spiritual; you’re supposed to get lost in the music.”

How do you get a band with its own touring schedule to agree to book a date at your college?

You ask, it turns out. South Asian Students Association contacted the band through its website; Bookwala exchanged messages with lead singer Sonny Mehta. Riyaaz Qawwali agreed to come.

The Tapestries program offered funding. In 2017, the College became one of an exclusive group of schools celebrating Muslim cultures through a unique blend of artistic and academic programming. Tapestries: Voices Within Contemporary Muslim Cultures is made possible in part by a grant from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, Building Bridges: Arts, Culture, and Identity, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

South Asian Students Association is barely a year old. This is its first big event, Bookwala says.

Alex Hendrickson, College chaplain and director of religious and spiritual life, helped students arrange the performance. Making arrangements for Riyaaz Qawwali to perform in the traditional way is a sign that Lafayette is embracing its growing cultural diversity, she says.

“Students like those in the South Asian Students Association and the Tapestries program are enriching lives and expanding the cultural understanding at Lafayette,” Hendrickson says.

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