Listening to Pakistani Sufi singer Abida Parveen has often been described as a divine experience, but the singer says she often hopes that rulers in India and Pakistan would listen more carefully to her message of peace.
“In Sufism, there is only peace,” Parveen said. “I have always believed that music and the arts is the best way to achieve peace.
“When I sing, I sing of peace, of harmony and culture.” Often called the heir to the legendary Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Parveen is today perhaps the world’s most renowned Sufi singer.
But she is quick to avoid comparisons with Khan. “He was just too great,” smiled Parveen.
“He was – is and forever will be – way above anyone else. I don’t even come close to him. I try to sing as honestly as I can but he was the ultimate master.”
When she sings, curly shoulder-length hair swinging in ecstasy, arms raised in complete devotion and surrender to the higher spirit that Sufis always sing to, Parveen is carrying forward an age-old tradition with awe-inspiring dedication.
BBC’s Peter Marsh famously said of her, “Parveen could sing a shopping list and have an audience weeping.”
Born in 1954, Abida Parveen grew up in Larkana, Sindh. Her father, Ghulam Haider, ran a music school.
Raised in a home dominated by the Sufi way of life, Parveen, unlike most other Muslim women, was encouraged to sing. Her father saw her talent early on and used to take her to sing at religious festivals.
Later her husband, the late Ghulam Hussain Sheikh, a senior producer in Radio Pakistan, became her mentor and she studied classical vocal music with Salamat Ali Khan.
Today, more than 100 albums later, the Parveen legend has been firmly established. But tell her that she has a magical grip on her audience and she grows shy: “It’s a little too much. I just know that music is my greatest love and that music can work magic in people’s lives.”
That’s the magic Parveen hopes to achieve in bringing peace between India and Pakistan, especially through a new Sufi centre that she is promoting with filmmaker Muzaffar Ali and new-age guru Deepak Chopra.
“This centre will work to promote a sense of well being between the peoples (of India and Pakistan),” said Parveen, who has sung in the world’s most famous concert halls and also at village shrines.
“Music, I have always believed, is a great healer,” she said.