The uncrowned Sufi Queen
Pakistani singer Abida Parveen´s truly amazing voice has earned her the status as heir to the crown of the late Qawwali legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Though not as immediate as the surging ecstasies of the big Qawwali ensembles, her intimate, charged music offers much to those prepared to give themselves over to it.
"Parveen could sing a shopping list and have an audience weeping", wrote BBC´s Peter Marsh when Abida Parveen´s album ´Visal´ was released in 2002.
Abida Parveen is known for the dazzling quality of her voice and her vivid musical imagination allied to her utterly feminine sensibility, all used to tell the Beloved the states His love makes us endure.
A real cult is now devoted to Abida, proof indeed of the way this immense artist gives herself over entirely to her public in her music; so long as they demand it, she is ready to go on giving the best of her gifts to serve the kalam (the Word) of the Sufi saints. Sometimes she will linger on a low note, sometimes she´ll rise to dizzy heights with oval ornaments of dazzling virtuosity; she seems to be in a state of ecstatic communion with her audience, inspired by an energy coming directly from Him whose praises she sings.
Very few Westerners understand the texts. Parveen sings about love of the only one, and the wish to be united with this divine creature. But she interprets the Sufi poetry with a clear diction and a gentle, often melancholy presence which makes the message go right in.
Abida Parveen gets her material from the old texts of the Sufi poets and herself composes the music, which is as richly ornamented as the warm voice embracing the stanzas. The ancient, soulful strains of Sufi music can some day unite the sparring neighbours India and Pakistan, says Abida Parveen in an interview in Indo-Asian News Service, April 2003:
"With the two countries sharing so much common cultural and traditional legacy, peace will prevail one day. Sufi music will have a role in unifying them".
The Sufi movement created a rich composite culture blending Islamic and indigenous cultures during Mughal rule in the Indian subcontinent. The movement was reflected in art, music, religion and philosophy. The Sufi movement coupled with the Bhakti movement opposed religious orthodoxy and caste and creed divisions and gave India such saints as Kabir, Namdev and Baba Sheikh Farid.
"The basic tenet of Sufism is the same: love for god and your fellow brethren," says Parveen: "In different areas, different saints propagated this one message using the idiom of that area and its traditional music so the masses could understand. Once you understand the message, you will realise that basically we are all the same."
"Music transcends the barriers of language, culture and creed. Even if an Englishman who doesn´t understand the words listens to Sufi music, it will transport him to ecstasy," she says.
Indeed Parveen´s music has a power to communicate across racial and denominational divides.
Born in 1954, Abida Parveen grew up in Larkana, Sind, in southern Pakistan in a home where the Muslim Sufi culture was very important.
Abida Parveen´s father, Ghulam Haider, ran a music school. Though women in Muslim society are rarely encouraged to pursue musical (or other performance) careers, her father recognized his daughter´s extraordinary talent at an early age and encouraged her to sing and brought her along to the annual religious festivals.
Here Abida met the trance-seeking music and song tradition practised by Sufis in Muslim brotherhoods around the world to get in touch with and praise the divine.
Her career crystallized after her marriage to the late Ghulam Hussain Sheikh, a senior producer in Radio Pakistan who became her mentor. She studied classical vocal music with Salamat Ali Khan, who, like Abida Parveen, has appeared previously at the Freer and Sackler Galleries.
While she does not regularly perform purely classical music, her prodigious command of the ornamental idiom and developmental genius of this genre is apparent throughout her music.
She has performed in a wide range of venues both sacred and secular, from the shrines of saints in her native Sindh to the world´s greatest concert halls.
Parveen has recorded over 100 albums - few of which are available in Europe - and releases a new album every 6-8 months.
On this recording Parveen devotes herself to Kafi, a strain of mystical and often radical poetry originating from what is now the troubled border between India and Pakistan. These are love poems in many senses of the word and the Sufi ideal of Visal (union with The Beloved) is often expressed in ways that seem as worldly as they are spiritual.
This is a more reflective music than the joyous abandon of Qawwali; tabla and dholak provide the shifting, cyclical heartbeats that underpin Parveen´s song, shadowed by harmonium and bansuri flute. Parveen´s gloriously honeyed voice is a warm, agile instrument, suffused with sadness and joy, strength and fragility in equal measure.
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
(08 August 03 - 26 September 03)