Five Raise Karma Resident Musicians on the Medium's Meaning

“Music makes us want to live,” Mary J. Blige stated in 2010 for Daily News. “You don’t know how many times people have told me that they’d been down and depressed and just wanted to die. But then a special song caught their ear and that helped give them renewed strength. That’s the power music has.”

The world is ruled by disparate elements creating a greater whole. The planet needs earth, wind, water, and fire. Humans rely on some combination of sight, sound, taste, and touch. Humanity’s ability to create marries one or more of these senses with less tangible counterparts -- rational thought, strong emotions, spiritual beliefs. Raise Karma elevates music as a crucial pillar in the palace of artistic expression. We touched base with a few musicians from Season One of our residency, centered around the book ‘Purification of the Heart,’ to learn the medium’s immense value in their own words.

Ali Hussain, Raise Karma, Art Collective

Ali Hussain's YouTube Channel, crafted for Season One.

“I believe that music addresses the highest dimension of the human being, the spirit,” stated Ali Hussain — a musician, Islamic preacher, photographer, and writer who plays the Oud, holds a PhD in Sufism, founded the Nostalgic Remembrance Institute, and has published five books. “As a Sufi, I believe that our entire physical existence in this world is rooted in the world of spirits. Our ailments and cures are rooted there as well. Therefore, nothing can provide equilibrium to both spirit and physical body like music done well, in terms of harmony and melody and nothing can harm the body and spirit as well like dissonance at the level of vibration.”

“Music is an art form that anyone can connect to,” explained husband-wife acoustic duo Tazeen and Lu Fuki. “It can bring the most different of people together and create unity within that space for those moments in which everyone is engulfed by the sound and rhythms.”

Lu Fuki and Tazeen, Raise Karma, Art Collective

An episode on Lu Fuki & Tazeen's YouTube Channel

Sound resonates with the body’s cellular makeup on a level transcending language, moving the top of the mind to the depths of the soul. “Song is, for me, a totally immersive experience -- a poem takes on different dimensions, flying in the listener's consciousness, settling in deep places,” explained Medina Whiteman, a singer-songwriter, poet, and author of recent works like The Invisible Muslim.

Whiteman’s lyrics offer deeper themes to anyone looking to escape popular music’s repetitive narratives. Where music is paired with lyrics, it gains another dimension of vibrational power, as words themselves carry particular energies. “Even if people aren't aware of listening to the words, I feel they do affect them on a subconscious level; when they listen to them consciously, it's all the more powerful,” Whiteman continued.

Medina Whiteman, Raise Karma, Art Collective

Medina Whiteman in conversation with Amna Mulla and Irum Ibrahim on 'Embracing Life.'

An artist’s work always carries a piece of the artist. Every snowflake is different, because nature never expresses itself the same way twice. Its wisdom and its permutations are infinite. Human beings, being natural, are also completely unique themselves. Art encapsulates this awe-inspiring fact. Art is a direct distillation of a person’s individuality -- one part inherent, another circumstantial.

Destiny Muhammad is a harp player who’s worked as a recording/performing artist, band leader, composer, and producer. She’s currently the Principal Harpist for the Eddie Gale Inner Peace Orchestra, the Oakland Community Orchestra, and a performer with The AWESOME Orchestra. A warm spirit bursting with joy even over email, Muhammad wrote, “I grew in a military family, traveling around the country and living for a time in Asia - I have been blessed to be exposed to a vast array of sounds and tones that I get to express in my own compositions.”

Destiny Muhammad, Raise Karma, Art Collective

Destiny Muhammad's digital broadcast show, Idris.

If the artist can tap into their most authentic, most true and highest self, then their work becomes truly unique. An artist’s individual experience sets them apart from others, but so does their response to each experience. Each individual holds on to distinct experiences, incorporating them into the greater narrative arcs driving their personal mythology.

Hussain mused upon his own artistic mission. He explained, “I keep coming back to the theme of making connections where none exist, which for me is the quintessential work of any artist ... We translate a formless meaning or inspiration into some tangible form of beauty, be that auditory, linguistic, or visual.” Creativity is the very ability to make these more inconceivable connections.

Hussain began playing the Oud in 2017, when he became a student of spiritual guide Shaykh Hisham Kabbani. Hussain is a first generation Arab Muslim immigrant “for whom art generally is a continuous process of negotiating my cosmopolitan identity.” To this end, Hussain said, “I feel as though the Oud represents me as a person. It is an Eastern instrument that can play Western music.”

Ali Hussain, Raise Karma, Art Collective

Dr. Hussain discussing 'The Tranquility of Spirits' through the lens of the Oud on BECOMING PRESENT.

A musician’s instrument is more than an object — it's the vessel through which they trailblaze once unexplored recesses. Whiteman remarked, “Songwriting makes me feel I have extra limbs!” Muhammad also noted that her harp coach one advised her, “My harp is an appendage- an extension of myself.”  With a firm belief in this idea, Muhammad explained, “this is why I name all of my harps. My Semi Concert Grand Salvi Harp is named Paloma. When I am playing I am Paloma, I am the music expressed as Paloma.” The instrument becomes part of the self.

Music is powerful enough to join people together. Tazeen and Lu Fuki are each independent musicians, they function as a greater whole where music unites them. “There are compositions in which one person will create the base and the other person will add to it and vice versa,” they explained. “We're both constantly creating individually and sharing with one another.”

Lu Fuki and Tazeen, Raise Karma, Art Collective

Lu Fuki & Tazeen introducing conversational guest Angel Bat Dawid on an episode about 'Embracing Life.'

“I view the creative process as the metaphysical and spiritual dimension of art,” Hussain told me. “I'm actually convinced that the creative process is identical with a spiritual or religious experience. And so often, especially when my audience is Muslim, I try to focus on certain metaphysical principles in the Qur'an and other foundational Sufi texts to highlight their importance in the art world and the creative process.”

“Music is divine work,” Lu Fuki and Tazeen added. “It is channeling a gift, a sound, a melody, an idea, from the Divine, and manifesting it through our instruments. As a result, the act of composing is nothing but spiritual work.”

Muhammad’s unique experience of spirituality blurs boundaries. “For me, there is no separation of spirituality and manifestation,” she explained. “Spirituality IS manifestation. Spirit speaks AS the work AS the music AS Destiny Muhammad. Each day is my opportunity to submit, surrender to Spirit AS Spirit. Each moment that I surrender to and as spirit, I get to translate and interpret its message through the vehicle known as music.”

Whiteman noted that music proves a liberating force for expressing her spirituality. “Often, we're encouraged to keep that side of ourselves private or closed off for fear of scorn,” she observed. “But I feel gagged and suffocated if some of the deepest and most important parts of my life can't be expressed… In my poetry and songs in particular, I feel totally free to speak my heart.”

She hopes that her self-expression through music inspires and empowers others. “To hear another person speak passionately about anything that's meaningful to them helps you to recognise that in yourself; it switches on mirror neurons in the brain, and you vicariously live their experience. That's why it's important to be cautious about the art that you consume. It puts you into the place the artist was in when they made it,” she elaborated.

Hussain has devoted the past decade predominantly to writing, and valued the opportunity that Raise Karma presented to focus more on ‘sacred musicology’ and connect with like-minded spiritual artists. He stated that Raise Karma “provided me with the podium to explore my musical craft and teach the spiritual dimensions of Arabic music for the first time.” Lu Fuki and Tazeen agreed, stating, “Raise Karma gave us a great platform to share and discuss our spiritual music practices in a space with other like-minded artists.”

Muhammad noted that her introduction to the collective “came at a most incredible time as the global pandemic began.” Her experience pushed her to explore new avenues like content creation and curation. The program’s curriculum also encouraged her to “go deeper in my personal understanding of spirituality as it is expressed as my music, interpreting and translating the pandemic and horrific experiences happening to The Black Community in America from my personal lens and experience.”

Destiny Muhammad, Raise Karma, Art CollectiveDestiny Muhammad discussing 'Negative Thoughts' on her YouTube channel.

Whiteman added that, “Having people believe in my work has been pivotal for me. I'll always continue writing and singing but to be offered a platform gives me the encouragement to share my work more widely. I discovered I love live free writing, which sounds scary but is actually a lot of fun! Most of all, I've found it really nourishing to connect with like-minded artists and writers. Their work inspires me to keep going and exploring new terrain, for example through collaborations with other instrumentalists and vocalists, or visual artists, filmographers and people working in other mediums.”

Everyone plays a role in this great puzzling mystery of our intertwined human lives, and every role has equal value. For a moment though, it’s wonderful to celebrate musicians, the ones who turn within, unearth the lessons which can’t be imparted with words alone, and make music with their entire body. That way, while we’re all working together toward the better world which lies on the other side of this fever pitch, we will at least have something great to listen to.

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