Joyce Award Winners

Sonny Mehta with Mandala South Asian Performing Arts



Sonny Mehta and Mandala South Asian Performing Arts are one of the five winners of the 2023 Joyce Awards, which lift up collaborations between artists of color and arts and community organizations throughout the Great Lakes region.

“Qawwali music has historically been used to introduce new ways of thinking and counter narratives that are reductive,” said Mehta. “In Chicago, I hope to harness the full power of this folk genre to heal divides among South Asian Americans as well as venture out to build a thoughtful path towards the Black community.” –Sonny Mehta

In collaboration with Mandala South Asian Performing Arts, musician Sonny Mehta (artistic director of ensemble Riyaaz Qawwali) will build bridges between ethnic and faith-based communities with Qawwali and Gospel: Singing Together, a live performance and workshop series combining Gospel music with Qawwali, a devotional musical tradition rooted in Sufi Islam. Drawing on the complex history of cultural exchange between South Asian and Black communities, Mehta will collaborate with South Asian community members in the Devon neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side and Black Gospel groups based on Chicago’s South Side to create new music that highlights parallels between the two genres while celebrating their distinct historic roots, bridging communities and cultures. The project will culminate in a public performance in 2024, developed through workshops and conversations that invite community members to make connections across their unique linguistic, musical, and faith traditions. Participants will explore the complexities and inherited histories of Chicago’s cultural and neighborhood relationships throughout the project, creating opportunities for learning, reconciliation, and solidarity across different immigrant and diasporic backgrounds.

About Sonny Mehta

As an award-winning American artist, Sonny Mehta (b. 1984) harnesses Qawwali music, compositions, and videos as mediums for sharing immigrant and diasporic narratives. He composes music, performs concerts, and produces videos with his ensemble Riyaaz Qawwali, which was founded in 2006. Qawwali is motivational spiritual music, rooted in South Asia and Islam. Mehta’s work as a community advocate is evidenced by his productions, which highlight aspects of our shared humanity regardless of race, religion, national origins, or creed.

Fluent in Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, and English, Mehta has established himself as a cultural ambassador for South Asian Americans, first-generation immigrants, and beyond. He has been awarded grants from the City of Houston, State of Texas, Texas Folklife, New Music, Indo-American Association, BIPOC Arts Network and Fund, and Mid America Arts Alliance. His work has been presented at the White House and featured on NPR and Huffington Post, as well as in the Miami Herald, Houston Chronicle, and New York Times.

About Mandala South Asian Performing Arts

Mandala South Asian Performing Arts is a MacArthur Award-winning organization founded by Executive Artistic Director Pranita Nayar. From classical to contemporary, Mandala Arts connects audiences and students with the vibrancy of the performing arts traditions of South Asia. Mandala Arts offers powerful engagement with specialized artists and educators who represent diverse ethnic, geographical, linguistic, cultural, and gender identities.

Sonny Mehta performs with ensemble Riyaaz Qawwali. Image courtesy of the artist.

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