Shumaila Hemani, PhD, is an academic, Hindustani and Sufi vocalist, acousmatic composer, and singer-songwriter from the Sindh region of Pakistan. Shumaila Hemani’s classical, folk and Sufi music bridges traditional and contemporary styles of singing Islamic Mystical poetry from South Asia with roots in Hindustani rhythms and Sindhi folk tales. Pakistani-born and currently based in Edmonton, Hemani gives a new musical interpretation by combining classical, folk, and contemporary styles of singing Sufi poetry from her homeland with the accompaniment of harmonium, santur, and tabla in her upcoming album "Mannat" (A prayer, a wish).
With a Ph.D. in Music from the University of Alberta where she studied and wrote about the singing communities associated with the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai for her dissertation, Hemani brings sounds from Sufi shrines in Pakistan and classical baithak(music rooms) to the Canadian concert halls by adding English translations of Sindhi folk tales for English-speakers. In her upcoming album, “Mannat” (A prayer, a wish), Hemani worked with Mehdi Rezania (Santur) and Ojas Joshi (tabla) to tell the story of Sassui, a character from the famous romantic folklore Sassui-Punhun who breaks social norms, overcomes personal adversity and crosses the mountain of Bhambhore in search for her lost beloved. The effect is a richly melodic and contemporary expression of South Asian folklore and music that evokes images of land of Sindh combined with spiritual contemplation. Hemani’s music reflects her journey to different parts of urban and rural Pakistan as she absorbed the sounds and voices of the people and developed a sense of academic and artistic self that is a marriage of head and heart.
Hemani’s music cuts across gendered norms in South Asian musical tradition, presenting male repertoires as well as styles of singing taan (virtuosic musical phrases in Hindustani music) from a feminist position. The reviews of her show at the Banff Arts Centre in Calgary Herald (2015) and the Edmonton Journal (2016) describe her music as “mesmerizing,” and “emotionally nerve-striking,” carrying “vocal virtuosity” and “expressing radically different inner existential visions”. Her upcoming music album Mannat (italics) (a prayer/a wish) combines four different styles of singing Sufi Poetry in Sind with the aim to immerse the listener in contemplations of love and self-healing that empowers them in resisting systemic oppression and chaos of a changing world. The sounds of Sufi poetry are an affirmation of life and existence and it serves to bring one closer to one’s inner truth surpassing any kind of fear and social judgements.
Hemani’s research and performance in Islamic mystical poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai have resulted in cross-cultural lecture demonstrations, performances and electroacoustic compositions in North America and Pakistan. Again, academic or music focus? Recent performances? Frequent performances? Her research and performance accomplishments have been honoured by several awards including First Prize Award (Society for Ethnomusicology) and the Cultural Diversity Award (2015), Edmonton Arts Council.
“Hemani’s piece struck a nerve in me for its paradoxical robustness, its vocal virtuosity, the harmonic texture contained in her solo line, and the sense of working out an inner grief by building emotional power and inexorable drive right up to the final note. It ended the first half with a bang and hardly a whimper.”Stephan Bonfield, The Calgary Herald
From the shrines of rural Pakistan to the theatres of urban Edmonton, Shumaila Hemani’s performance of traditional Sufi Islamic poetry has mesmerized many. “I think this style of singing is really very powerful and brings forward a person’s true self and connects with other people’s deepest selves. I have no other way of explaining what I encounter through my musical performances,” Hemani said.” (Samantha McKay, Edmonton Journal)