Orchestral Cavalli Project: Searching for the Soul of Sufi Music

British Asian musician Abi Sampa discusses her musical journey, inspiration and the extraordinary rise of the Orchestral Cavalli Project.

Abhi Sampa and Raheel Ranjan.

Author: Ajad Nazir

Perhaps the most groundbreaking British Asian music performance of recent years is the brilliant Orchestral Cavalli Project.

Combining Sufi poetry with grand orchestral arrangements and music rooted in centuries of tradition, this culturally rich ensemble captivates cross-cultural audiences of all ages through their performances.

Vocalist Abi Sampa was a highlight of the show and attracted a lot of attention. She founded the band with her husband, ace composer Rushil Ranjan, and together they created a musical phenomenon that opened up new creative frontiers.

The musical dream team brings together a diverse group of artists for what will be one of the biggest Cavalli-led concerts ever staged in the UK, taking place next Monday (27th) at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

They will be accompanied by the National Youth Chamber Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Eastern Eye Interview with great British hero Abi Sampa, discussing her musical journey, inspirations and the extraordinary rise of the Orchestral Cavalli Project.

How do you feel about your experience since appearing on a music reality show? sound Are you now preparing to perform at the Royal Albert Hall with the orchestra Cavalli Project?

I didn’t have much time to reflect because everything happened so fast. To be honest, I’ve been on this path since I was a kid. I’ve been singing spiritual music since I was a kid.

sound It’s just me trying new things as a young adult. But my childhood grew out of a pursuit of spiritual music. So, this feels more like the path I’ve always been on.

It is an absolute privilege to perform with the orchestra Cavalli Project. We are so grateful and honored that the community supports us and comes to see us perform live.

What originally inspired you and Rushil Ranjan to start the Orchestral Qawwali Project?

I have been singing Qawwali since I was a teenager. I met Rushil in 2016. So, it all started with enjoying music and creating together.

In 2018, Rushil and I actually dropped our first recording Men’s Fitness Maura and some others. Rahier always knew it was a beautiful and grand style of music and wanted to find a way to reimagine it.

How did he do it?

He taught himself how to compose for orchestra, initially recording only a cello and a violin. In 2022 we have been invited to perform with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He then had to teach himself how to compose for a full orchestra. He was a musician but was not taught to compose for orchestra. But just because he loved it so much, he eventually started learning, and then it just snowballed completely out of our control.

The group’s progress has been rapid. Did you expect it to be so soon? Absolutely not. I never thought it would happen so quickly and on such a big scale. Last year I said to Raheel: “Oh, it would be great to play at the Royal Albert Hall one day”. I had no idea this would happen a year later in 2024. I think this is music that means a lot to the community. The only explanation that comes to mind is that the community pushed this and made it happen.

But you engage cross-cultural audiences in a way that few South Asian-led performers have…

Yes. I mean, when we played with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at Celtic Connections, I’d probably say the majority of the audience were white Scots, they absolutely embraced it and really loved it. Yeah, I think that’s what we’re trying to do because we’re really cross-cultural within ourselves. It’s how we express our culture, our identity, and the different things that shape our time.

What is it like to perform live? Walmart Moral Daywhich helped late qawwali legend Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan become a crossover star decades ago?

I feel like I’m stepping into really, really big shoes, but it’s absolutely amazing. The crowd was fantastic. It’s always been a dream of mine to do because of Nusrat’s reputation for performing there. It’s already an honor just to be invited.


You’re surrounded by great artists, but is there any pressure to be in the spotlight as a frontman?

Honestly, it’s not as good as if you were a completely solo singer. It was such a joy to be on stage with all the choral singers, musicians, bandmates and friends. I don’t feel like I’m a solo player in it. Even though I knew I was leading the Cavali troupe, it felt like giving it all, being on stage with beautiful people, doing something really lovely, with a purpose. So, no, I don’t think so at all. It’s always a joy.

How do you enter the spiritual zone when singing on stage?

I don’t know if I can put it into words correctly. I think this music is more important than any of us. It’s definitely bigger than me, so I just put my head down and let the music come out. I don’t even think that’s me, really. I put my head down and let the power take over, hoping it would touch people.

What can we expect from the show at the Royal Albert Hall?

This is probably the biggest show in terms of our work with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the 32-piece choir. It will be everything but on a much larger scale, befitting the Royal Albert Hall.

Is there any song you’re particularly looking forward to performing?

It’s hard to choose. we performed Ganji Shakar Partnered with CBSO late last year. This is a show I’m really looking forward to.

Everything will be slightly reimagined, grand and beautiful.

How much does the fact that you are a multi-talented artist help you?

Rushir has worked with many great artists including Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. He said that because we grew up here, we understand Western music in a slightly different way. This meant we could incorporate Indian classical elements into Western classical elements in a way that didn’t feel too over the top. So, we can bring everything together.

I hope my cultural identity means I can do both of those things in a way that pleases people.

Raheel Ranjan is also your husband. What is it like working with married people?

I’m sure us being married and working on such a huge project together made our own lives very difficult. But it means we can make things as beautiful as possible.

No rights, this is work, I’m going home now. So, the Orchestral Cavalli project is not over. There are no boundaries. We are always working hard and doing the best we can.

What does the future hold for the Orchestral Cavalli Project?

We are working on many different projects. Raheel and I are working with the CBSO on new works, concertos, and also starting to work on some projects.

As far as the Orchestral Cavalli Project is concerned, we just hope to continue to grow so that we can take it around the world and allow people to appreciate this beautiful and amazing art form.

What inspires you as an artist?

All the art forms and music I listened to. But nothing fascinates and moves me more than qawwali music, so my biggest inspiration is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Saab.

But yes, beautiful classical music indeed, in all its forms from Western to Eastern. Now we are excited to try to bring the two together. I would say these are my inspirations and desires.

What kind of music dominates your personal playlist?

Oh, that’s always a tough question. Apparently, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I do enjoy listening to Bollywood music and some AR Rahman music. As far as British music goes, I like Mumford & Sons, Coldplay. I grew up listening to big balladeers like Celine Dion.

How do you generate so much emotion in your voice?

Oh, thank you. I don’t know the answer to this question. I just do what I do and hope it touches and moves people.

Why should we all come to the Royal Albert Hall?

It’s been a long time since the Royal Albert Hall saw many Cavalli performances. I think Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has been coming to this venue for 30 years. So it’s going to be a beautiful event where all different people can come together and enjoy this beautiful art form on the grandest scale we’ve ever performed.

Why do you love music?

Oh, what is life without music?

www.royalalberthall.com www.orchestralqawwali.co

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