Behind the Scenes of Friday Night Reflections | The Ismaili Canada

In Focus

Behind the Scenes of Friday Night Reflections

An inside look at the weekly broadcast that brought the Jamat together during the pandemic.

Zahra Premji
Published October 23, 2021

When Jamatkhanas temporarily closed due to the pandemic in March 2020, many Jamati members missed chai nights, social hall banter and familiar faces. But, in April, a bright spot appeared: Friday Night Reflections. Hosted on the main evening of prayer, this weekly one-hour broadcast featured messages from Canadian Ismaili leadership, discussions with change-makers, music videos and more.

The host might be in Vancouver sipping a cup of chai (or, in my case, bone broth or sherbet) while speaking to a business owner in Winnipeg and showcasing music from an artist in Montreal for viewers from across Canada. Eight thousand to 15,000 viewers tuned in each week, watching live or on demand on Youtube, Facebook and other platforms during the show’s run from April 2020 to July 2021.

Airing of the 2020 Salgirah Mubarak show with host Zahra Premji, sign language interpreter Farah Ladha, and French subtitles. Photo: Asif Murji

A few people appeared on screen, but the show was produced by “an army of volunteers,” explains co-creator Ashif Jivraj. As national lead for photo, video and digital broadcasting for the Aga Khan Council for Canada, Jivraj brought knowledge and technical expertise from working in and teaching media production at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. 

"We're sitting behind the computer screen and we think we're doing a little show, [but] we can have quite a bit of impact," Jivraj said. “I'm deeply humbled by the opportunity to create something that can help join the Jamat and hopefully bridge that gap of loneliness so people aren't feeling as isolated.”

Asif Murji edits an episode of Friday Night Reflections. Photo: Courtesy of Asif Murji.

From writing to translating to editing, at least 20 volunteers would spend over 200 hours producing each show. Production began with a team meeting every Saturday to review the previous night’s broadcast and decide on the upcoming show’s themes. Topics have included the work of the AKDN, being an ambassador of Islam, devotional expressions, questions on COVID vaccines and pluralism.

Next, the team gathered content such as COVID-19 updates, recordings of His Highness the Aga Khan’s speeches, devotional music videos and messages from national leadership. The team also coordinated theme-specific interviews between guests, ranging from doctors to politicians to business leaders to celebrities, and the host (often an Ismaili journalist). Interviews happened on Zoom but, for optimal video quality, everyone simultaneously recorded themselves on their phones. For my set-up, I sat on my couch and prop my iPhone on a stack of books and a guitar amp for the perfect angle. In post-production, editors sliced, diced and tweaked to achieve an optimal broadcast.

Zahra Premji’s recording setup in her living room. Photo: Courtesy of Zahra Premji

By Tuesday, the raw content was ready. Next, volunteers created French subtitles, a Farsi voice-over and an American Sign Language translation to encourage inclusion.

Farah Ladha, a registered sign language interpreter, was a consistent, bright face in the corner of the digital broadcasts. She spent around 15 hours translating segments each week. Signs vary regionally, so she would contemplate how best to present the content.

“I watch the [videos] at least three or four times... pick up words that I don't know... and research terminology,” Ladha said. Word about sign language translation spread and members of the global Ismaili Deaf community tuned in regularly, Ladha added.

Farah Ladha’s setup for recording an American Sign Language translation for the show. Photo: Kristen Westcott

Then, the team moved on to the final edit. This process varied each week. If there were last-minute updates or technological mishaps, the team might finish just 30 minutes before showtime. Come Friday evening, the show was live-streamed in homes across the country and the world, connecting the Canadian Jamat from coast to coast along with viewers from over 40 countries around the globe.

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