The Imam and his “performing circus”

Lia, our host in Surabaya, lives in a fantastic world of what she calls “a performing circus” and we had the chance to be part of it. Once we left our shoes in the big pile in front of the house and stepped in, music became part of our daily life for the next two weeks: morning singing of Farah, melodic voice of Umi Fatah, the mother, calling us to eat, endless rehearsals of different groups directed by Abdul Chaliq, the father of the family, jazzy notes in Lia’s, the eldest daughter, tunes, and funny improvisation of Nawafi, the youngest son.

Delicately, the father and the mother – both artists (singer, musician and composer) – always made sure that we were part of the family, making us forget that we are guests of Lia’s, the eldest child, also dancer and singer in her spare time and now a part of the M.A.D. team. During two weeks we felt like going through a spiritual journey, inspired by the religiosity of the whole family apparent not only in the music they create but also in their daily life by showing kindness and generosity to every single person around, be it community members, or girls from the slum areas of Surabaya, or guests like us.

Umi Fatah, the mother, and Abdul Chaliq, the father

Lia’s parents seem to be a living piece of art, and music is just one of the means to express their beautiful personalities. “My father is a relaxed muslim musician” – Lia told us laughing at the sound of community boys doing the microphone check in the mosque, where Abdul Chaliq is the leader of religious devision, imam (kind of muslim priest), and a leader for committee of mosque construction. Lia continued telling stories of community watching world cup game in the mosque, playing games, sleeping and just chilling. “That’s what happens when a musician becomes an imam”- continued Lia talking about her father with love and respect. We got to know Abdul as a very humble man driven by his passion for music and devotion to God, and everything with a good doze of humor. He abandoned his religious studies in order to focus on music, his passion, yet this did not make him less religious since his art is at the service of God and people. Lia’s father gets many critics in the mosque for mixing Islam and music but he does not pay much attention to that. “If you don’t like it, then don’t listen” – that’s his simple and direct reply to the most conservative ones. “But it is just a little number” – he told us. Indeed he does not seem to be bothered at all by these critics and continues conveying message of peace and tolerance in the communities of East Java.

The spiritual music that Abdul Chaliq composes lightens and cheers up people’s hearts and that is certainly what makes him restless and happy besides his wonderful family. When he does not rehearse days and nights with his daughter’s group, he does it with his young son’s band, his own one or he produces his wife’s songs. In other times he is a judge in music competitions or the main organizer of cultural community events. Despite all these activities, he remains unstressed, calm and always joyful as much as his wife, Umi Fatah. 

Umi Fatah, the mother, singing together with Farah at community celebration for the start of Ramadan month

Umi Fatah is the heart of the family, like a butterfly – light and colourful personality. She joined Abdul in his passion for music when she was young, before they were married. While her parents thought that Umi is reciting Qur’an, she was singing songs with Abdul and that was the beginning of this artistic family. Now it is usual to find CDs of her songs in the local traditional markets, as people love to hear her voice and the message of the songs. 

To the Muslims considering music as sinful, then come and listen to Farah and her charming gang! They will for sure bewitch you and lead you to the abyss of love, love for God and Humankind, for these two cannot be separated. In Farah’s family music finds no contradiction with religion as long as ethics apply. Though she has the charisma of a pop star, on stage she shines out by her modesty. Her colourful hijab matches perfectly with her elegant long handmade dress as clothes are another way for Farah to express her spirituality. Farah’s songs are about love, peace, moral and values because for Farah music for the sake of music is meaningless unless it has a purpose. The fascinated audience often chooses her and her group as the best rebana group, locally and nationally, and so do we! (rebana – is a frame drum or tambourine, common in islamic performances). 

Farah together with her "gang"

As for the youngest member of the family, Nawafi, we believe he will also be a great artist, so we set to follow the whole family in their beautiful way of life as we are truly inspired by the positive difference they create around.

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One response to “The Imam and his “performing circus”

  1. I LOVE THIS !! Thanks a lot for writing this, my dear sister Nija and brother Kamal .. hopefully both of you wont forget all sweet moments we had and our dreams would come true. we will have to be in EUROPE with the magnificent performance of my gang . yeah, i do relly hope someday ! once again, thanks for everything, we will be absolutely missing you both. SUCCESS FOR THE M.A.D MARVELLOUS PROJECT !!! 😀

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