Instep Today

Ali Sethi to feature as highlight of Harvard Arts Festival Finale

Instep Today
By Instep Desk
Tue, 03, 19

He will be joined on the stage of Harvard’s iconic Sanders Theatre by his teacher and mentor, Harvard Professor Ali Asani, and the Grammy-winning music producer Noah Georgeson.

Coke Studio star Ali Sethi will give the concluding performance at this year’s Harvard Arts First Festival. The Festival, which is the largest of its kind at any North American university, highlights the creativity and talent of students, faculty, alumni, and other members of the Harvard community. Sethi, who graduated from Harvard in 2006 and went on to earn acclaim as a writer and musician, will sing poems by iconic South Asian Muslim poets that celebrate diversity, challenge bigotry and extoll the virtues of love as intrinsic to the human-divine relationship. He will be joined on the stage of Harvard’s iconic Sanders Theatre by his teacher and mentor, Harvard Professor Ali Asani, and the Grammy-winning music producer Noah Georgeson.

“I am so delighted to welcome my dear friend Ali Sethi back to Harvard,” said Professor Asani, chair of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures. “Our collaboration first began when he was a student in my courses on religion and the arts in Muslim cultures. Destiny has brought us together once again in this exciting collaboration, The Covenant of Love, which highlights poetic traditions that have historically played a central role in shaping Muslim world views but which have unfortunately been marginalised in contemporary discourses about Islam.”

Sethi said that he has always turned to Sufi poems in times of distress. “I went to Harvard in 2002, one year after 9/11. All around me, there was this panic about Islam. Was there room for human rights in Islam? What did Muslims “really” believe? Most of the answers – for Muslims as well as non-Muslims – were couched in grim, legalistic terms. But in Professor Asani’s class I discovered this whole other perspective from within Muslim cultures – the vibrant, cosmopolitan, humanistic ethos of Muslim spirituality. Sufi poems and metaphors revel in ambiguity, undoing such binaries as sacred and secular, male and female, spiritual and material. In that sense I think they are like this incredible technology of the heart – one that can help us do dialogue across difference in this highly polarised time.”

“We are thrilled to be bringing Ali Sethi and his group to the Harvard campus to present ‘The Covenant of Love’ with Professor Ali Asani,” said Jack Megan, Director of the Office for the Arts at Harvard.

“The essential message of love — opening up our hearts to the beauty of each other, the distinct richness of varied faiths and cultural traditions, and the soul-lifting possibilities of music, poetry and art — can make such a difference in the world.

At this moment, it is especially important to see this message embodied in as many ways as possible. I am delighted that ARTS FIRST, Harvard’s four-day festival of the arts, will conclude on this note. I hope it will be the first note of many more such events.”

Harvard has a long roster of alumni who have contributed to the arts in meaningful ways, from actors like Matt Damon and Natalie Portman to authors like Coleson Whitehead, and one important function of the Arts First Festival is to honour their contributions. According to Inaara Shiraz (Class of 2019), a student producer currently working with the Office for the Arts: “My first class at Harvard was a first-year seminar with Professor Asani, and it was through Prof. Asani that I first learned about Ali Sethi and his journey from being a Harvard student to a widely respected musician. I remember watching videos of Ali Sethi perform with the greats like Abida Parveen and also seeing him collaborate in new and fresh ways with South Asian hip-hop artists like Riz MC and Heems. I am beyond grateful as a member of the Pakistani Students Association to play a role in bringing Ali Sethi’s artistry to Harvard during ARTS FIRST and to give homage to his musical collaborations with Noah Georgeson and his academic mentor, and my first teacher, Prof. Asani.”

“As a student at Harvard I would stand in line to attend these inspiring talks and concerts,” Sethi said. “I had this dream that one day I would stand on the stage in Sanders Theater and represent those aspects of my culture that I know and love. And now that dream is coming true.” Sethi will perform at Harvard on Sunday May 5th, the concluding event of the four-day festival.