New $500,000 prize for Islamic music: Lebanon’s Abeer Nehme and Egyptian composer Mustafa Said up for inaugural Aga Khan award

The Lisbon award ceremony will feature a competitive performance in front of an esteemed jury

Lebanese singer Abeer Nehme is back with a new pop-music release. Courtesy: Universal Music Mena
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

A new prize that praises the best in Islamic inspired music has been announced: The Aga Khan Music Awards will hold its inaugural edition in the Portuguese capital Lisbon from March 29 to March 31.

More than 30 international artists and music experts will be in attendance for a series of performances and discussions on Islam’s rich musical heritage. A total of $500,000 in prizes are up for grabs at the inaugural event.

Meet the laureates

Read More

Already announced are the nine artists who will be at the ceremony to receive their Aga Khan Music Award Laureates accolades that acknowledge careers dedicated to building bridges.

They include Malian singer-songwriter and activist Oumou Sangare and kora virtuoso Ballake Sissoke. Both have been chosen for their "distinguished and enduring contribution to music.”

Other laureates include Tunisian singer Baadia Bouhrizi, who promotes social inclusion through her art.

Also picking up an award is singer and composer Farhod Halimov from Uzbekistan, whose work highlights the traditional songwriting craft of the historic Islamic city of Samarkand.

Let the competition begin

The Aga Khan Music Awards will be no standard award ceremony: at the heart of it is a competition and the prestigious Award in Performance will be played out on stage.

All 14 finalists nominated will perform an original work in front of a live audience, as well as the award's Master Jury that consists of artists and musicologists. Some of the big names on the panel include David Harrington, the violinist and founder of the revered experimental group Kronos Quartet, and Nouri Iskandar, composer and former director of Syria's famed conservatory Arab Institute of Music.

A healthy number of the finalists hail from the Arab world. The list includes a trio of Palestinians: the oudists Ahmed Al Khatib and Huda Asfour, as well as the singer and flautist Nai Barghouti. Lebanese soprano Abeer Nehme and Egyptian composer Mustafa Said (known for his work with the Asil Ensemble) will also battle it out for the prize.

The reason behind the awards

The ceremony is a result of an expansive two-decade project from the Aga Khan Music Initiative – held under the auspices of the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslim community. The aim is to support artists in preserving the musical heritage in areas such as the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia and North Africa.

“The initiative promotes the revitalisation of cultural heritage both as a source of livelihood for musicians and as a means to strengthen pluralism in nations where it is challenged by social, political, and economic constraints,” reads the award’s statement.

The details

The Aga Khan Music Awards will be held at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation from March 29 to March 31. For more information on the award and the full list of nominees go to You can also follow The National's coverage of the award ceremony in Lisbon.