Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the record label of the Smithsonian Institution, has released Nowruz, the debut album of the Aga Khan Master Musicians (AKMM), says press release issued by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) on November 27 .

“It’s thrilling to have a group of (largely) traditional instruments playing new music that is inventive and attractive,” wrote Songlines, a UK-based world music magazine.

Speaking about AKMM, Prince Amyn Aga Khan noted that “The Master Musicians distil the work of the Music Programme in the way they merge performance, composition and arrangement which is inspired but not necessarily constrained by traditional sources.”

Fairouz Nishanova, Director of the Aga Khan Music Programme, added that “Nowruz offers a wonderful example of how intercultural collaboration can ignite musical curiosity and imagination.  Yet results like Nowruz don’t happen overnight. The album is the culmination of a long creative process in which the artists learned from one another with the aim of becoming conversant in a different musical language.”

The six members of AKMM who perform on Nowruz include Wu Man (pipa), Basel Rajoub (saxophone and duclar), Feras Charestan (qanun), Sirojiddin Juraev (dutar and tanbur), Jasser Haj Youssef (viola d’amore) and Abbos Kosimov (percussion).  Guest musician Levent Yıldırım (doholla) joined the group on one track.

Aga Khan Music Programme Senior Advisor Theodore Levin, who produced Nowruz together with Fairouz Nishanova, highlights the album’s originality:

“While inspired by traditional sources, the music on Nowruz represents the craft and sensibility of contemporary artists who are all consummate masters of their instruments and musical idioms. Furthermore, AKMM perfectly embodies the Music Programme’s focus on strengthening cultural pluralism through music.

“AKMM’s hope for the impact of their album is that it will encourage others to seek out their own path to pluralism by learning to savor the music of other times, places and cultures and what it has to tell us about our collective humanity.”

In addition to regularly offering critically acclaimed performances in international concert venues, the members of AKMM serve as core contributors to the Aga Khan Music Programme’s worldwide education activities.  In this role, they mentor young musicians through workshops, masterclasses and artist residencies that explore how traditional musical styles and repertoires can be expressed in contemporary musical languages that integrate performance, composition and improvisation.

Founded in 2013 by the Aga Khan Music Programme, whose mission is to support contemporary expressions of Muslim musical heritage, AKMM draws on music from Central Asia, China, the Middle East and North Africa to create a strikingly original body of work where living musical traditions meet and meld.