Shumaila Hemani, an Edmonton-based Sufi singer-songwriter, brings diverse listeners new musical interpretations to the traditional repertoire learned from master musicians in Pakistan. Hemani, Ph. D. in Music from the University of Alberta (2019), is an Ethnomusicologist with expertise in sounds of religion.
Her research and performance in the Islamic mystical poetry of Shah Latif have resulted in cross-cultural lecture demonstrations, performances, and electro-acoustic installations internationally. Shumaila’s multi-lingual repertoire offers a catharsis on a rainy day and will restore peace in your heart. She takes you in a state of hal, which is an ecstatic mystical state of inner knowing and higher access to one’s intuition. Inspired by Pakistan’s legendary Sufi singers: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parvin and mentored by Ustad Hameed Ali Khan Sahib (Gwalior Gharana) and Faqir Jumman Shah (Latifi lineage of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai), Shumaila combines “art” and “folk” Sufi musical expressions from Pakistan multi-lingually singing in English, Urdu, Quranic Arabic, Sindhi, Punjabi, Siraiki, Gujarati, and Persian.
She has performed at the Semester at Sea’s Spring 2020 voyage, Femme Wave Festival (2019), Coalition Studio showcase for Canada’s Music Incubator (2019), University of Alberta’s International Week festivals (2016, 2014), the Banff Arts Centre (2015), Pakistan-American Cultural Centre (2014) and music conferences such as the Singing Storytellers (2014) to name a few.
Her recent presentation about Islamic soundscapes (2020) and recitation of dhikr (remembrance) received a standing ovation on the World Odyssey. It was perceived as opening one’s ears to listen in new ways. Calgary Herald described her music as “mesmerizing,” and “emotionally nerve-striking,” and carrying “vocal virtuosity,” “expressing radically different inner existential visions,”(2015) and Edmonton Journal recognized Hemani’s music for “enriching” the city’s cultural life.” The Femme Wave festival described Shumaila’s music as cutting 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 angle.
“My lyrics seek to decolonize intercultural conversations by resisting cultural essentialism and binary mindsets. My musical interpretations of Sufi music from Pakistan are indicative of how this repertoire has empowered me. Based on tales of love in the local folklore, these Sufi poems have enabled me to cultivate love as a tool for social justice. I hope to create a space for women to exercise their right to re-imagine their faith and belief and create new possibilities for being, living, and transforming the planet.
Supported by the Edmonton Arts Council’s Cultural Diversity Award, Shumaila will release her upcoming CD “Mannat” (a prayer, a wish) in January 2021, accompanying her vocals on her portable harmonium with North Indian tabla played by Ojas Joshi and the Iranian zither santur played by Mehdi Rezania, Adam Maalouf, on ghatam and frame drum, and Akbar Khamisu Khan on alghoza and Ismail Faqeer on dambur from Sindh, Pakistan.
This album combines four different styles of singing Sufi Poetry in Sind and will immerse the listener in contemplations of love and self-healing that empowers them in resisting systemic oppression and in finding purpose within a universe rearranging itself.
Hemani is also an acousmatic composer, and her compositions: Forgotten Ways of Thinking have been featured at the R.L. Stevenson Concert at the Society for Ethnomusicology (2012) and Migraines at SALT New Music Festival in Victoria, BC (2017) alongside the University of Alberta’s Graduate Composer’s Concert (2010, 2017) and a sound installation (2010). Commissioned by the New Music Edmonton, her upcoming composition Transitionsconverses soundscapes from her teaching and travels on World Odyssey with Sufi sounds from Pakistan.
Her original lyrics and song compositions and performance have had an impact in Edmonton and beyond: Anticipating/Muntazir, a bi-lingual song selected for Mysterious Barricades’ 2020 Cross-Canada Concert for awareness of Suicide Prevention and Hope. John Wright, at Radio Airplay, acclaimed the song for bearing “a visceral emotionality and a deep musicality expertly ushering listeners into a place of contemplation and consideration. The use of both English and Urdu gives this song a specific gravity - forcing listeners of either. nativity to hear the story told beyond their bubble.” Anticipating has also been curated on mental health and wellness playlists such as Shine, Songwriter Associations’ Episode 22: Sunny Days, Energy Healing, and Thee Undeniable. Living with Purpose, a bi-lingual song in Quranic Arabic and English, has been featured in Hemani’s blogs on Canada’s Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences and The Conversation. It has also been #1 track in Ethnocloud’s World Music charts, January 2020, and has been on their charts since.
“What listening offers us is the most visceral, immediate, and intimate doorway into realizing and practicing our humanity during any global crisis,” says Hemani