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A museum in the making: Halifax group wants world music centre

Group looking for affordable building downtown

4 min read
caption Mohammad Sahrai, director of the Halifax World Music Museum, plays the Iranian tar.
Karli Zschogner
caption Linshan Sui played the Chinese guzheng at the International Music Concert at the Halifax Central Library on Feb. 10.
Karli Zschogner

A group of music lovers in Halifax are trying to open a museum dedicated to world music.

Mohammad Sahraei, an immigrant from Iran, is spearheading this movement as the director of the Halifax World Music Museum initiative. Sahraei, who’s also an ethnomusicologist, says a music museum in Halifax would be a cultural centre that would build community spirit.

“A common culture is one of the most important and essential elements which makes a society,” wrote Sahraei in an email to The Signal. “Since music is an international language that is understood across national borders, the best way to approach and learn about any culture is through its music.”

Sahraei says while the provincial government promotes and welcomes newcomers to Halifax, there is little structural or cultural foundation encouraging newcomers to stay. He says because there is limited permanent space that encourages the appreciation of different cultures, he sees a space dedicated to music would be an attraction for locals, tourists and immigrants.

caption Janvier Nahimana, a Burundian-Canadian, is founder of Halifax’s Mutcho Cultural Group playing at the International Music Concert.
Karli Zschogner

Daniel MacNeil is president of the recently registered non-profit museum initiative. He says the museum will focus on folklore music of Nova Scotia, including those from the Mi’kmaq, Acadian, Scottish, and Irish cultures. He finds music develops the ability for more respect and to build relationships with different cultures.

“Understanding the linguistic aspects of other ethnicities is unrealistic for most people because it is very difficult and time-consuming,” says MacNeil. “Discussing the politics, religions or genetics presents its own set of problems. None of these obstacles, however, exist in music.”

Multiple music shops exist in the Halifax Regional Municipality which build, buy and sell instruments and provide lessons, but none are as large as a cultural centre. Alongside a permanent collection of instruments, MacNeil says the museum will house concerts, dance shows and music lessons. Other programs, workshops, conferences and book and album publishing would offset a good portion of maintenance costs, says MacNeil.

The two men met online and through mutual connections, and found they had a similar idea for an active community space dedicated to music. Sahraei says so far he has 60 instruments from around the world, including the Iranian tar, a Chinese pipa, a West African ngoni and an Indian sitar. He says he’s talked to embassies of several countries which have agreed to donate instruments.

Sahraei says their main concern is finding an appropriate, accessible and affordable building. They have found sponsors for construction and interior design, but need to fundraise for a location.

MacNeil says they’re looking at a couple of locations in the downtown area.

caption Daniel MacNeil (second from left) and Mohammad Sahraei (middle) among the musicians, dancers and singers at the International Music Concert.
Karli Zschogner

International music concert

The first benefit concert for the world instrument museum was held Saturday night at the Halifax Central Library. It featured music and dance from groups from Asia, to Africa, to Europe to North America. Sponsors included the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia.

“Music is therapeutic,” says Samidha Shetty who performed Indian vocals. “Even if you’re not a professional singer or instrument player, whenever you hum, you feel good. Music is a good channel to vent your emotions.”

Attendee Nayha Acharya says having a music museum in Halifax would be “awesome.”

“There is so much richness in the musical cultures and heritage here, so I think it would be great for the community to partake in that,” she says. “The one thing about (music) is it transcends language. So you can communicate with each other even if you have different languages and completely different cultures … it’s a unifying force.”

MacNeil hopes to have another event like the concert in six months.

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About the author

Karli Zschogner

Karli Zschogner is part Nova Scotian and recently moved to Halifax for Journalism at the University of King's College. After her Bachelors in...

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