A multiethnic group with an average roster of 200 members, the Agape International Choir began with a 30-voice holiday season presentation in December of 1988. With the combined writing and composing talents of music director, Rickie Byars, and founding minister, Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith, the choir, early on, began performing original Beckwith/Byars compositions. As the choir has developed and grown in membership, so has the complexity of Rickie Byars's vocal and instrumental arrangements. Over the past six and one-half years, Agape Choir music has become known for its signature sectional harmonies, counterpoint, tempo-patterns, devotional power, and energetic enthusiasm.
Zain Bhikha, born in Pretoria, South Africa is a singer-songwriter who achieved fame as a performer of nasheed songs. Tied to other prominent Muslim entertainers, including Yusuf Islam and Dawud Wharnsby Ali, Bhikha has collaborated with other artists and has released several solo albums as well. He has written several religious albums concerning Islam. Bhikha may best be known outside of the Muslim community along with several backup vocalists and a drummer who were cast as the African singing characters in the popular Disney movie, The Lion King.
Divya Jain is an accomplished Indian classical dancer and choreographer. Over last 20 years, she has performed in many prestigious cultural, Interreligious and charity events in India and the US. She performed at the Dharma Music Concert at the 2006 Montreal World’s Religions Congress and the 2007 Monterrey World Religions Congress in Mexico. Divya received a Master of Arts degree in Bharat Natyam, a form of Indian classical dance; and several awards from a variety of institutions. She teaches dance at the Creations Dance Academy in Edison, New Jersey and hosts programs on television and radio stations. She has performed with many actors, artists and musicians from Bollywood. She has exposed over 1,000 students to the richness of the Indian dances, heritage, and culture.
On the evening of Sunday, December 6th 2009, the people of Melbourne, together with visitors from around the world, gathered at the new Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre to experience the beauty of the world’s most sacred music and movement, performed by world-class musicians from many religious and spiritual traditions.
Throughout the seven days of the Parliament, the Arts and Culture program was interweaved with plenary sessions, discussions, conversations and forums. These events included Aboriginal and Indigenous traditional dance and songs, the poetry of Rumi and other mystical poets, religious and spiritual comedy, African drumming, chanting from diverse traditions, fine art exhibitions, major artistic performances and much more. Major galleries and museums in Melbourne also offered special exhibitions and tours around the themes of the Parliament. Cultural visits to Aboriginal sites and centers were a highlight of the program.