Songs of the Soul 2018


Reported by Leili First, Ph. D.


“The Songs of the Soul is a universal longing; it manifests itself in the heart of every nation and culture. It transcends the confines of time and place and expresses itself beyond the ordinary and towards the eternal.” With these words, Hamaseh Kianfar, Ph.D., opened the 2018 Song of the Soul Festival of sacred poetry, music and dance, celebrating the desire of the human soul to find tranquility. Related to the beat and aspirations of the human heart, this language surpasses the confinement of mental faculties, traditions and era. Setting the tone for the day, she quoted from Rumi, who spoke of the reed’s separation and longing for return: “Listen to the longing of the reed, To melodies of plaintive separation. A listener I need – one with a broken heart.” And so we felt our longing, and with hearts opened, we listened.

“Poetry beautifies our world and sacred music brings us to the state of meditation, remembrance and appreciation. Life is a beautiful journey – it deserves to be honored and valued.” The many centuries of enchanting Sufi poetry of love and devotion made their rich presence known through the heartfelt readings of Dr. Nahid Angha in their original Persian and translated into English, alternating with the ethereal music of Taneen Sufi Music Ensemble. Poets such as Khayyam, Rumi, Abul-Khair, Hallaj, and Attar were represented, and within the songs was interwoven chanting some of the 99 Beautiful Names of Allah. In the words of the poets, we were enraptured: our wisdom ran, our intellect fainted, our knowledge disappeared; we were in a state of awe, enraptured by the sight of love. The fire of love burned down everything. Such a beautiful and powerful performance of poetry honoring the Beloved and the majesty of human beings.




More sacred poetry was shared by Marin County’s Poet Laureate, Rebecca Foust and The Reverend Canon Charles Gibbs, who opened their hearts to us. Rebecca noted that most of what she writes about feels sacred to her, and she read poetry addressing the sacred world of nature, our sacred selves, and our need to protect the innocent and vulnerable. She closed with a poem from her project as Poet Laureate: Poetry as Sanctuary, designed to raise awareness of immigrants in our community. Rev. Gibbs called attention to the most abused and underused resource on earth: the world’s women, dedicating a poem to the creating of a Motherland. He selected readings to represent a journey he visualized bound to “plunge into Love’s welcoming waters” to be washed away. His poetry reflected wisdom he has gained observing the natural world. “The journey demands preparation: empty your pockets, then empty them again. You will be surprised by riches along the way.”







Beginning with drumming and chant, Eddie Madril transported us to a Native American way of life and understanding which does not separate prayer, ceremony, everyday life, games and work. Sharing songs and stories of many Native American Nations throughout the United States, Eddie spoke of the need to look within to find the truth, the need for patience, and the unity of all of creation. He explained some of the special celebrations of different tribes and gave us a grass dance song, flag song and honor song. He offered as a gift to each member of the audience his mesmerizing hoop dance, sometimes seen in the context of healing, developing coordination, representing the circle of life, or teaching the science of creation. The beauty and energy of the performance were truly transformative.





Heartsongs for Sakina presented song and chant calling us to prayer, peace, gratitude and reflections of love, accompanied by the longing strains of the viola. With their many voices weaving together in harmony, cutting across boundaries of many languages and many cultures, they opened our hearts with sacred words and teachings, inviting us to sing along with them. One of the songs introduced “om” as the Big Bang – the sound that created everything; another song called to the ocean that “refuses no river.” Throughout their presentation they focused on sending healing energy to loved ones and the world.






Qawwali, at the heart of Sufi devotional music and poetry, was masterfully presented by Riffat Sultana, accompanied by guitarist Richard Michos. Their rich, authentic expression of this mesmerizing tradition transported us with songs and chants of love, and honoring Sufi saints revered by Pakistanis of all faith traditions. Riffat’s powerful and expressive voice leaves no doubt of the gift to humanity that she has become the first woman in her distinguished family of eleven generations of master vocalists to publicly perform in the West. By the end of their performance, we felt ourselves surrounded by the love and longing of centuries of devoted Sufis.






Avay-i-janaan closed the day with a presentation based on a cosmic creation story offered and narrated by Rev. Charles Gibbs, and bringing in elements of the Conference of the Birds. With a blend of music, poetry, rap, narration and visuals, the journey of the soul emerged, traveling through the cycles of light and darkness with a yearning older than time. The Grandmother, whose “dark eyes were deep wells of spirit light,” told the story, blending scientific and spiritual understanding of the Big Bang, which started perhaps not from a seed, but a tiny heart, which began to beat. In the stillness we can hear the hum from this beginning: “Its echo is calling to us, waiting for a listener.”

We closed the day as we began, with the longing of the soul, the message waiting for a listener.






The International Association of Sufism is grateful for the wonderfully talented and deeply spiritual poets, musicians, storytellers, and dancers who joined with us to celebrate the magnificence of human being.


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