The seventh annual Rumi Night was hosted by the Columbia Iranian Students Association on Friday.
According to Naazanene Vatan, CC ’20, one of two vice presidents of the club, this event is unique from other events that CISA holds as it does not coincide with Iranian holidays. It is held primarily to celebrate unity through Rumi poetry. The club leaders host the event to honor Sufism, a school of thought that celebrates the human condition through the mystic element of Islam and has influence far beyond Iranian and Persian culture.
Hana Mahallati, BC ’19, the president of CISA, sees Rumi Night as an opportunity for the Columbia community to uphold “the global heritage of Sufism that needs to be both taught and preserved.”
Amir Vahab, a musician and educator of Persian culture described by the New York Times as an “ambassador for a Silenced Music,” was the lead performer of the night. In order to honor the multiplicity of national perspectives involved in Sufism, Vahab sang his last song in five languages—Persian, Turkish, Azari, Hindi, and English.
Throughout the show, his two accompanists recited English translations of famous Rumi songs, giving audience members who didn’t speak the songs’ original languages access to the content of the songs as well.
Beyond the multiplicity of languages, Vahab also played a total of seven instruments in the two hours of his performance.
The show started with the tar and sitar, two string instruments that are common in Iran and India. When Vahab made a switch to the ney, a woodwind instrument commonly used in Middle Eastern music, he took a moment to reveal the importance of this instrument in Sufism. Vahab explained that the ney was not a man-made instrument but was passed down by nature. The ney is a hollow part of the ney tree; what creates the beautiful sounds is the angle at which the neyzan, the individual playing the ney, blows breath into it.
Mahallati revealed how for the first time this year, the event provided enough space for individuals to dance and partake in Sufi whirling, a type of dance associated with the school of thought.
Besides showcasing a variety of musical instruments and providing a space for listening to the body and dancing during the performance, Rumi Night also encouraged students from the Iranian community at Columbia to feature and submit their visual artwork for display at the back of the room.
Vatan added that a unique aspect of this student organization is the large graduate student population that brings different points of view to the meetings and events. For most undergraduate members, Rumi Night is an opportunity for introversion and introspection.
For graduate students who recently moved from Iran, however, Vatan explained that Rumi Night is an opportunity to reminisce about their childhood, studying Rumi in literature classes and listening to his poems in family gatherings or in bookstores at the center of town.
Attending this concert gave participants a way to listen to their bodies and reminisce about their experience with Sufi music, according to Vatan.
As Mahallati said, Sufi music is an “opportunity to transcend the polarities that separate us.”
Updated 8:49 p.m. November 7, 2018. This article previously incorrectly stated and spelled Hana Mahallati’s name, as well as misidentified her title within CISA. Spectator regrets the error.