Ismaili Heritage and Traditions: Fascinating Insights into Early Recordings of Ginans and Geets

By ALNOOR JEHANGIR MERCHANT

Simerg’s recent post titled Awesome and Rare Collection of Ismaili Ginans with Music at the British Library and a number of related online contributions, especially Aly Sunderji’s sharing of the equally rare and exceptional audio recordings of devotional songs produced in Tanganyika in 1946 commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III (link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqxUDlY_pis&index=1&list=PL8-KGtAvEpq5s1nBIplLQA3j1RDptQ5GJ) is an opportune moment to add some further remarks on the recordings of ginans and geets* produced during the first half of the 20th century. It is hoped that these remarks and, more particularly, the recordings themselves, will provide an impetus in documenting and preserving the diversity of the Ismaili community’s musical heritage and traditions.

Original disc labels of four ginan recordings that are part of a digitization project being carried out by the British Library (clockwise from top left): Satgur miliya mune aje composed by Bibi Imam Begum and sung by Rama and Rahim Ali; Ho jire mara hansa composed by Pir Sadardin; Ab teri mohobat lagi composed by Pir Shams; and Marna hai zarur composed by Pir Imam Shah and all sung by Master Juma Kakali. Images: The British Library (collage by Simerg).

It is difficult to give a precise dating as to when the ginans digitised by The British Library as part of their Endangered Archives Programme (EPA) Project were originally recorded. The ‘Young India’ record label which, according to the British Library catalogue, published these recordings was established around 1935 and continued for approximately 20 years; thus, the recordings should be dated to the period 1935-1955. An examination of the images of the disc labels, however, provides additional information that seems to have been overlooked in the cataloguing process.

On three of the ginan recordings, the disc label states ‘Ismailia Record’, along with the following: Manufactured by National Gramophone Record Manufacturing Company, Bombay, India [and] Sole Distributers [sic], The King Record Company, Kalbadevi, Bombay. The ‘Ismailia Record’ ginan recordings are in the voice of Master Jumma Kakali. On the fourth ginan recording, the disc label states ‘Best Ismaili Record’, along with the following: Manufactured for the Bombay Record Company by the National Gramophone Record Company Limited, Bombay.

As all four ginan recordings do not mention ‘Young India’ on the disc label, it may be that ‘Ismailia Record’ and ‘Best Ismaili Record’ were independent record producers. Unfortunately, the disc labels do not contain any information on the date of production of the records. However, according to Hussain Jasani, who has undertaken some research, there is evidence to suggest that these recordings were produced during 1938. According to Jasani, one of the volumes of the community’s magazine, Ismaili, published during that year, refers to these recordings. [Paper presented by Hussain Jasani, “Preserving Community Heritage; The Oldest-known Ginan (Audio) Recordings”, IIS Alumni Association, European Chapter Group, Annual Meeting, London, 29th September 2017].

Are these the earliest recordings, musical or otherwise, of ginans? In her essay titled “Sacred Songs of Khoja Muslims: Sounded and Embodied Liturgy and Devotion”, (published in: Ethnomusicology, 48, 2 [Spring/Summer 2004]: 251-270), Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy suggests that a number of ginan recordings made by the Dutch ethnomusicologist and pioneer in the study of South Asian music, Arnold Adriaan Bake, are the earliest. She states (p. 256):

“Probably the earliest ginan recordings were made by Arnold Bake in Karachi in 1939. These as yet unpublished field recordings were sung individually by teenaged boys, presumably found at the Karachi jama‘at (community) school.”

Three of Bake’s Karachi recordings dated 11 March 1939, which he catalogued as ‘Khoja devotional song’ have been identified as:

  • Satgur avya kai apne dwar, sung by a 14-year old boy, Karim Ali Muhammad
  • Hamdil khaleq, sung by a 14-year old boy, Rahim Ali Muhammad
  • Haq tu pak tu, sung by Sadulli M. Abdulla.

Jasani’s research suggests that the Bombay recordings, and not the Karachi ones, are the earliest. While the ginan recordings produced (most likely in 1938) as part of the ‘Ismailia Record’ and ‘Best Ismaili Record’ labels or those in the Bake collection (recorded in March 1939) may be among the earliest, it would not be out-of-place to suggest that there could be earlier recordings of ginans, musical or otherwise, which remain to be ‘discovered’.

It is known that sound recordings from South Asia began to be produced at the turn of the 20th century, with the earliest known dating to around 1899. The foremost researcher of early Indian sound recordings is Michael Kinnear. His two books, The Gramophone Company’s First Indian Recordings 1899-1907 (Bombay, 1994) and The Gramophone Company’s Indian Recordings 1908-1910 (London, 2000) document not only the history of the Gramophone Company and its successor companies’ activities in India, as well as the recording expeditions it undertook in the country, but the two volumes also provide complete listings of all known and traceable recordings taken on those expeditions. In one of his other encyclopaedic works titled The 78 RPM Record Labels of India (Apollo Bay, 2016), Kinnear covers all known record labels and histories of the companies from 1899 to the late 1960s. Perhaps, an analysis of the listings contained in Kinnear’s works will lead to the identification of ginan recordings from the first decades of the 20th century. Another important resource could be the various magazines published within the Ismaili community at the time. The Society of Indian Record Collectors may also be an avenue worth exploring. Indeed, it is from the collection of one of the members of the Society of Indian Record Collectors, Suresh Chandvakar, that some of The British Library’s ginan recordings have been digitised.

With respect to the recordings of geets, little research has been carried out. Ali Asani, in the chapter ‘The Git Tradition: A Testimony of Love’ in his work titled Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literature of South Asia (London, 2002) writes (p. 71):

“The tradition of composing gits, as we know in its present form, has been associated particularly with Nizari Ismaili communities of South Asian origin….Unfortunately, we know precious little about its development. As is the case with many folk traditions that have been orally transmitted, its historical origins are quite obscure. Moreover, the gits themselves have never been systematically collected and documented.”

In his essay, Asani predominantly refers to geet recordings from the 1980s onwards. And, Amy Catlin Jairazbhoy, states that the Khoja geet emerged “at some uncertain time in the twentieth century” (p. 262). In her essay titled “Songs of Praise: the Git Tradition of the Nizari Ismaili Muslims”, in Gujarati Communities Across the Globe: Memory, Identity and Continuity, ed. by Sharmina Mawani and Anjoom A. Mukaddam (Stoke-on-Trent, 2012), pages 59-78, Sharmina Mawani writes that “few authors have focused on gits…. and the way in which this creative form of expression has flourished from one generation to another” (p. 59). Although her discussion focuses on post-1960 geets, Mawani does refer to a geet by Fateh Ali Ismail Ibrahim titled Aayi Aayi re Sakhi written specifically for the Diamond Jubilee of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah in 1946, the original lyrics and tune of which “were inspired by the joyous and celebratory nature of the occasion” (pp. 71-72). Indeed, one of the recordings placed online by Aly Sunderji is of this geet (please click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-GnZn4UC7A&index=5&list=PL8-KGtAvEpq5s1nBIplLQA3j1RDptQ5GJ)

The audio recordings shared by Aly Sunderji of devotional songs produced in Tanganyika in 1946 commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah provide us with important information on the geet tradition. And, significantly, in Suresh Chandvakar’s collection, there are a number of recordings that are also most certainly part of this tradition, but which are slightly earlier date-wise.

Original disc labels of geet recordings that are part of a digitization project being carried out by the British Library. Images: The British Library (collage by Simerg).

An examination of the listing of the individual recordings from Chandvakar’s collection identifies five enigmatic entries: Aavo Sultan Raj, Golden Jubilee Part 01, Golden Jubilee Part 02, and two listed as Captain Lakhpati. Further, the disc labels on these recordings provide some fascinating information. The disc label for Aavo Sultan Raj states: Compiled by ‘Best Ismaili Record’; the disc labels for Golden Jubilee and Captain Lakhpati state: Compiled by ‘Captain Lakhpaty’. This, undoubtedly, refers to Abdullah Jaffer Lakhpati, who is considered among the founders of the H. H. the Aga Khan Bombay Volunteer Corps, and who was also a versatile poet and artist. It is known that Lakhpati was appointed as Captain of the Volunteer Corps in February 1936. With this reference date, as well as upon listening to the recordings, it is clear that these geets were most likely composed to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, in 1935-36. To date, therefore, these are the earliest musical recordings of geets.

As to the performers, Ahmed Dilawar and Prabhakar, it has not been possible, as yet, to locate any further information on these individuals. It is likely that the various publications issued by the community, such as Ismaili and Fidai, could shed more light on these specific compositions and the performer(s), as well as on the tradition and history of geets.

One final point: All the disc labels of the ginan and geet recordings identified in this article and that posted previously share a common feature. What may be considered as the ‘Headline’ banner in the top half of the disc label is either an illustration depicting an image of Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah in the centre with the red and green Ismaili standard on either side, or the Imamat Crest in the centre, again with the Ismaili standard on either side. Does this not suggest that the recordings were officially produced for circulation?

All the ginan and geet recordings, (links to the geets are provided hereunder), along with Aly Sunderji’s sharing of the Diamond Jubilee geets, provide a fascinating insight into the historical development of this tradition, and allow us to reflect anew on this musical heritage.

Link to Aavo Sultan Raj

http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Young-India-record-label-collection/025M-CEAP190X7X07-008ZV0

Link to Golden Jubilee Part 01

http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Young-India-record-label-collection/025M-CEAP190X7X06-001ZV0

Link to Golden Jubilee Part 02

http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Young-India-record-label-collection/025M-CEAP190X7X06-002ZV0

Link to Captain Lakhpati

http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Young-India-record-label-collection/025M-CEAP190X7X06-003ZV0

Link to Captain Lakhpati

http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Young-India-record-label-collection/025M-CEAP190X7X06-004ZV0

Date posted: October 1, 2017.
Last updated: October 5, 2017 (additional source(s) added by the author, Alnoor Merchant, in paragraph referencing Sharmina Mawani’s essay).

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*The term used to describe a devotional ‘folk song’ is git; however, the more commoner spelling form, geet, is used in this article.

About the author: Alnoor Jehangir Merchant is an independent researcher on Ismaili studies, and a specialist advisor on rare books, coins, photographs and objets d’art relating to the worlds of Islam.

We welcome your feedback. To leave a comment please click LEAVE A COMMENT. If you encounter a technical issue, send your comment to Simerg@aol.com, Subject: Ginans and Geets.

 

 

Must Watch: A Fantastic Cultural Celebration in Moscow for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 80th Birthday

Please click: Ismailis in Moscow Celebrate His Highness the Aga Khan’s 80th Birthday

Please click on photo to view segments of concert.

Please click on photo to view wonderful segments of concert.

Date posted: January 4, 2017.

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11 Year Old’s “Incredible Interview” with Star Indian Musician Touches on Mawlana Hazar Imam, FIFA and Music (of course!)

“…it was quite something to perform in front of him [Mawlana Hazar Imam] and be in his presence. It was truly, truly magical. I think it was one of our most prestigious performances” — Salim Merchant

PLEASE CLICK: 11 Year Old Boy Aspiring to Become an Astronaut Interviews India’s Iconic Singer Salim Merchant

Please click on image for interview

Please click on image for interview

“Happy Days in Hasanabad” – Mawlana Hazar Imam in India

As part of Simerg’s special series on Jamatkhanas, we published a piece under the title Happy Days in Hasanabad (please click to read the historic piece). We mention this because the Jamats in Western India have just witnessed and experienced the happiest days of their lives in the historic Hasanabad complex in the intimate company of their beloved 49th Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan, whose magnificent 11-day visit to India concluded on September 28, 2013.

In the coming days we hope to be able to present accounts and narratives from members of the Indian Jamat on various aspects of the visit, including the immensely happy days that they spent with their Imam in Hasanabad.

In the meantime, we invite our readers to view the official video of the banquet ceremony that was hosted in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s honour by the Indian Jamati institutions. The happiness of our beloved Imam is indeed evident as he attentively listens to two live musical pieces “Bismilllah” and “La Fatah Ila Ali La Saif Ila Zulfiqar” (there is no hero except Ali, and no sword except Zulfiqar) that were presented during the banquet. In Shia Ismaili theology, all Imams are generally referred to as Ali (the first Shia Imam) because each Imam is the bearer of the same Noor (light) in the continuum that is Imamat – a Divine Institution that was ordained by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) at Ghadir-Khumm with the proclamation “Man kuntu mawlahu fa Ali mawlahu” (He of whom I am the Mawla, Ali is also the Mawla).

To watch the video, please click on the following image or The Ismaili – Banquet Video.

Please click to watch video.

Please click to watch video.

Date posted: Sunday, September 29, 2013.

A Kaleidoscope of Inspiring and Uplifting Poetry for Imamat Day

EXPRESSIONS OF MYSTICAL AND ESOTERIC LOVE FOR HAZAR IMAM

Ismailis throughout the world celebrated the Golden Jubilee of their 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini, during the period July 11, 2007 – December 13, 2008. Part of the commemorative festivities in Europe included an exclusive project, entitled “Festival of Poetic Expressions”, produced and directed by Aitmadi Dr. Aziz Kurwa, under the aegis of the His Highness the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for the United Kingdom.

The Festival of Poetic Expressions - A Golden Jubilee Initiative by His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for the United Kingdom.

The common theme underlying each performance was the expression of mystical and esoteric love the Ismailis have for their Imam of the Time.

Such expressions have resonated throughout Ismaili history, because Ismaili doctrine has always emphasized the principle of the Unity of Imamat where the Ismailis affirm that each Imam, as bearer of the Noor of Imamat starting with Hazrat Ali (a.s.), is the same irrespective of his own age or the time he lives.

Group photo of the participants and organziers of the

Group photo of the participants and organizers of the “Festival of Poetic Expressions”

Thus the poems selected below are timeless, and we hope they instill happiness in the heart of every Ismaili as they celebrate the 56th Imamat Day of Mawlana Hazar Imam on July 11th. 

MY ULTIMATE DESIRE

عندما تأتي يأتي النور

Victoria Niema Alhaj

Victoria Niema Alhaj

عندما تأتي يأتي النور
إمامي أنت مولانا
معك نشعر بالسعادة والامان
أنت إمامي
أنت حبيبي
أحب أن أراك دائما
لك حبي ياشاه كريم

By Niema Victoria Alhaj

O my Imam
when you come
comes the Nur.

You’re our Mawla,
and you give us
happiness and protection.

O Shah Karim,
you are my beloved Imam,
and to see you
is my ultimate desire.

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Niema, pictured above, was born in Stockholm, to Syrian parents. Niema knows many Arabic Qasidas and Qur’anic Surahs by heart. She also has many talents including composing poetry, writing short stories, painting, and sports including Taekwondo (gained green belt) and swimming (has many diplomas).

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KALEIDOSCOPE OF FAITH

By Zainul Nasser

Takhtnashini in Nairobi
An event so momentous,
So significant
My heart is filled with wonder
And childish piety

Giving Bay’ah in Mombasa
Hazar Imam’s gentle hand
On my bowed shoulder
Benign, protective

The kaleidoscope is set
In simple, comforting patterns
Glowing brightly throughout childhood

Religion is woven
Through our lives
Jamatkhana as familiar
As our homes
Pictures of Hazar Imam
Surround us
A constant, reassuring presence

Childhood ends
And with it certainty
New ideas, new experiences
Overwhelm me
For a while, my inattentive soul
Loses its way
The familiar patterns
Seem blurred and distorted

But I am blessed
At Palace Gate we students
Sit at Hazar Imam’s feet
So fortunate
In this small, intimate setting
Hazar Imam’s gaze
Seems to rest on me
Infinitely understanding, infinitely merciful

My struggling soul is rewarded
Focus is restored
The patterns in the kaleidoscope
Acquire coherence, depth and sparkle

And over the years
The colours dim or brighten
But the patterns remain steady
And my hopeful soul
Journeys on
Towards
Golden Jubilee Imamat day

We come together
In joyous anticipation
Our hearts beguiled
By fervent Zikr tasbis, qasidah
And the rousing ‘Munajat’

We are shown
Hazar Imam’s untiring efforts
To help the needy
To bring hope and harmony and beauty
Everywhere
A shining beacon in a time of darkness
Our hearts sing with pride
We are inspired
We are humbled

And we are blessed
With the Irshad
So caring and compassionate
So full of love, wisdom and goodness

The kaleidoscope clicks
Into perfect symmetry
The colours polished to a lustrous luminescence
The child in me
Exults in the jewelled splendour
My imperfect soul
Is filled with gratitude
At this gift, this grace
And prays for it to last.

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Zainul Nasser ( nee Karmali ) was born in Mombasa and grew up there. She came to the U.K. as an undergraduate and has lived here ever since.

Zainul has an Honours degree in English from Bristol University and a Postgraduate Degree in Education. She taught English in secondary schools in Birmingham for several years. She also served on various committees including Education and Women’s activities.

Zainul is married with three grown up children. She now lives in Sutton Coldfield, indulging her passion for reading and occasionally writing poetry.

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THE MORNING SUN

Zahira Virani

Zahira Virani

By Zahira Virani

Excited, mesmerised momins, full of expectancy,
full of love and joy

Communal love beyond any I have ever witnessed
An empty reservoir waiting to be filled
A hungry child awaiting its delayed meal
The desert gasping for its monsoon

Roses, jasmine and freesia release clouds
from the intoxicating agarbati
Rising and raising me higher and higher
till I land on a cloud
I become an eagle that soars
to dazzling heights in expectation
That knows the further it goes
the more bounteous its reward

Morning Sun

Bump
Down to earth, bustling shuffling,
quick fire steps of volunteers Salwaat continuous,
rolling around in echoes and ripples of anticipation
Waezeen moving off the stage and evoking
a collective in-take of breath
Then chokingly a salwaat comes out
trickling water on a dry plant
Gently, gently but truly, truly
A teasing moment till it spills forth
the presence of Our Lord!

Overwhelmingly a wave upon a wave
of heat envelopes my heart and my mind
I lose my ability to focus,
through an uncontrollable gush of tears
I find my head bows,
surely my eyes are not worthy
To glimpse his face
Yet the presence opens a door in my heart,
where I can see glory
beyond my dreams
The family of momins around me
embrace me without arms, we are one

I am in union with them and my Lord
We are a garden of flowers resplendent
in the glory of the morning sun 

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THE DANCING HEART

Greg Traynor

By Greg Traynor 

Come [let’s] celebrate this golden year with sitar, lute and tabla
Clear the well-spring maple floor for dandia and rasra.
Tread the flattened, reddened earth.
The verdant grass, the seashore.
Clap your hands, Lift up your feet
– Be happy!

From mountain top in high Pamir to Ganges’ muddy waters,
From old folks in Portugal to Toronto’s sons and daughters
Will all join hands and navigate
Their way around the dance floor
Our hearts exult, our souls inspired.
– We are happy!

Dandia

Pale ghosts of Alamut arise! Come, join in this occasion!
Scholars of al-Azhar’s red towers and saints of every nation!
Raise up your voices, all in praise.
Our Imam’s life to cherish
We, the living, wish to dance and sing
– So happy!

Our Imam’s fifty golden years witness his dedication,
His Dancing Heart has guided the formation
Of our joyous souls,
His thoughtful words have nourished and
His Farmans have enlightened.
Our dance will show we want to make
Him happy.

Greg Traynor presented the Dancing Heart as a non-Ismaili spouse. He lives in Ireland.

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THE SPIRIT WITHIN

Ayat and Rope

By Moez Mitha

To the Rope of Imamat,
we must remember to hold strong,
With this Rope as our guide,
we will never go wrong.

From our spiritual responsibilities,
we must never go astray,
The balance between Din and Duniya
we should uphold everyday.

We love our Hazar Imam and in our hearts
he is always near,
How fortunate we are to be witness
of this Golden Jubilee year!

Magnificent are the works of our Imam
and to him we must show
That with our time and knowledge
the further we will be able to go.

We live in a world where we sometimes forget
how fortunate we really are,
And even the smallest of contributions
can help people go so far.

Moez Mitha

Moez Mitha

Our Mawla, he guides, he leads the way
and to us he always says,
“Remember your prayers and
take your tasbih any time during the day.”

In this year some of us may see
that it’s time to make a new start,
But in doing so we must show
that our allegiance is from the heart.

When it’s time for the Day of Judgment,
there’s something we all know,
Physically we will cease to exist
and to Him our spirit we must bestow.

Mawlana Hazar Imam has often reminded
us of our key role:
“In the practice of your faith,
you should seek to enlighten your soul.”
 

Date posted: Saturday, July 6, 2013.
Last updated: July 24, 2015.

Please also click The Festival of Poetic Expressions to learn about the festival and read more poems presented at the festival.

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1952 Historical Recordings of Allidina Jamal Walji Luvungivalla’s Ismaili Songs in Kiswahili at SAMAP

CORRECTION NOTICE

In my piece below about Ismaili songs in Kiswahili archived at the SAMAP, I mistakenly attributed the songs to Mukhi Allidina Jamal of Upanga Jamatkhana in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. My attention has been drawn by the family of the actual composer and singer, Allidina Jamal Walji Luvungivalla, that the (late) Mukhi Allidina Jamal, who I attributed the songs to, and the (late) Allidina Jamal Luvungivalla were different individuals. I convey my apologies to the readers as well as members of the two families for this confusion, and appreciate Allidina Jamal Luvungivalla family’s kind reaction and understanding in this matter of mistaken identity. I hope to obtain information about the actual composer in due course, with some background notes about the context of the compilations.

Needless to say, the short description I have provided in the piece about the singer of Anant Akhado, Mukhi Allidina Jamal, is fair and accurate, except that he is not the composer and singer of the Kiswahili songs — Malik Merchant, Editor, Simerg.com

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Allidina Jamal's Swahile songs were recorded on Shellac recordes, similar to the one shown above.

Allidina Jamal’s Swahili songs were recorded on Shellac records, similar to the one shown above.

Simerg.com is pleased to bring to its worlwide viewers a unique link to a series of devotional Ismaili songs in Kiswahili which have been archived with the South African Music Archives Project (SAMAP), which aims to promote multidisciplinary research in the field of popular music and culture.

The songs were composed and sung by the iconic Tanzanian personality, Allidina Jamal (please see correction note at top of this page), who was the Mukhi of Dar-es-Salaam’s Upanga Ismaili Jamatkhana during the 1960’s. Before assuming the post as Mukhi, he would be regularly called upon to recite verses from Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s composition “Anant Akhado” to the delight of the Jamat. The few verses that he sung from this monumental composition before the first Dua provided immense inspiration to everyone in attendance, setting the stage and religious fervour for the prayers that followed.

The 1952 recordings were done on the brittle Shellac gramophone records, although the much better Vinyl technology had been introduced by then.

Friends and admirers of Mukhi Allidina Jamal as well as viewers who speak or understand Swahili will be thrilled to hear these songs of devotion which include titles such as Mubarak-mubarak imame-zaman, Kwimbho ya zilsile ya imamat, Kwimbho ya Nooran Mubbin and Kwimbho ya sifu ya imam.

We invite you to click Allidina Jamal Kiswahili Song Archives at SAMAP

Readers are also invited to submit comments on this unique memory that Mukhi Jamal has left behind as well as other fond recollections with respect to his recitations in Jamatkahanas around the world.