Abida Parveen on the magic of Sufi music, ahead of her concert in Dubai

The famed singer spoke about the music that inspires her, and more in an interview

By Sadiq Saleem

Published: Wed 7 Dec 2022, 10:43 AM

Last updated: Wed 7 Dec 2022, 4:55 PM

In the year 1999, when Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan was given the honour to introduce playback singer Lata Mangeshkar and invite her on stage to perform at her live concert in Mumbai, he invited her by saying, “There are few voices in this world that have the power to connect the human soul to its Creator. And Lata ji’s voice has that power.”

It would be apt to use the same words for the Queen of Sufi Music, Abida Parveen, who will perform at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena on December 9.

It was my first interview with the legendary singer, and I was advised by some fellow journalists, who were fortunate to have spoken to her at some point in their careers, to not take the usual question and answer route. “Just hear what she says, enjoy the experience and go with her flow.”

And that is exactly what I did. We started from her earlier days and I was surprised to learn that she started listening to kalaams and music since the age of three. She started to perform from the tender age of six, and the rest is history.

Music, as per Abida, was her calling. “There is a famous saying that what’s meant for you will never miss you. I could not even think of doing anything else apart from music. So, I was destined to find music as it was my calling. I was meant for it from day one; I am extremely grateful to Almighty Allah for giving me what I always wanted and for the respect and love I have received through the years,” Abida shared with full conviction.

Fame at a price

But this recognition came at a price. Abida remembers that her interests in Sufi kalaams and music clashed with the interests of her peers; she recalls that she could never make a friend in her childhood.

“Nobody used to play with me, and I used to hate it when they would say ‘we are going back home’. I would get so angry at them. I used to yearn for that so much that I started cutting papers in my room, since nobody used to play with me. That is how I would pass time. I recall that the first friend that I made was in Class 5.”

Abida’s father was Ghulam Haider, a Sufi mystic singer who founded a devotional music school in Larkana, the Sindhi city where she hails from. “I used to accompany my father at different shrines where we would recite kalaams and sing on festivals.” Abida gives full credit to the Almighty and her family lineage for inspiring her to take up Sufi music. “As I grew up, my attention and interest towards religious scripts and kalaams grew more and more. My walid sahab (father) was my inspiration. Sufi saints were always a topic of discussion in our household; that is why I say that I was meant for this,” she emphasized.

Today Abida is globally recognized as the biggest Sufi singer in the world with multiple accolades, state honours and six decades of stage experience to her credit. At the start of this year, Coke Studio Pakistan launched its 14th season with a devotional track called Tu Jhoom, which took the Internet by storm as fans fell in love with the spiritual dance of harmonies depicted in the song along with her stunning pairing with Naseebo Lal, another songstress from Pakistan. Prior to this, Abida had sung numerous duets with artists like Ali Sethi, Ali Azmat and Ustaad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan on the Coke Studio platform.

Speaking of her live performances, Abida considers the performance as an act of meditation and submission to the Almighty. Abida, who has delivered the message of the saints at sold-out venues across the world, says, “Wherever you read the kalaam of the saints and of those elated figures who have devoted their lives to Allah, that place, whether it’s a studio or an intimate gathering, turns into something sacred, like a Dargah (shrine).” She further adds, “At the end of the day, we’re all messengers. This is the mere purpose of our evolution and our existence.”

A mesmerizing effect

People are known to have fainted at several of her concerts, as they get extremely mesmerized by her voice. There have been instances where listeners would drop jewels at her feet which she would gracefully turn down, and then get back on stage. Her co-performers have admitted to have felt gut-wobbling, primordial experiences while listening to her at rehearsals and so on, but Abida does not take credit for any of that.

She believes that the pull is in the words of the kalaam itself. “Whatever they have written has an inexplicable magnetism. The sacred words, if you dwell and focus on them, have innate qualities of attraction. It makes you think about the universe and its secrets, the Almighty and his powers and how minute we are in the overall scheme of things.”

We asked her the names of the singers that she listens to when she is by herself and her answer was not surprising; because time and again she has commented on her admiration for Lata Mangeshkar and Mehdi Hassan. “I listen to a lot of music and artists. I listen to Lata ji and Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali Sahab. I listen to a lot of English albums as well. Of late, I am being drawn towards Arabic music because their music has mystic qualities owing to the instruments and the language used. I learn from each of them. I believe God has blessed everyone with a quality and everyone has something great to offer.”

Painting has been one of her lesser-known passions. She doesn’t get much time to practice; however, she does remember what she painted last. “It’s been many years now since I picked up a paint brush. But I recall I drew a palm tree and I have that somewhere in my home.”

Sadiq Saleem is a Dubai-based entertainment writer. He can be contacted on his Instagram handle @sadiqidas.

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