Abida Perveen, rendering sufi kalam in her full-throated voice is a treat any time. Great music should have melody, poetry and rhythm and Abida’s singing has all of this in abundance. She continues to enchant audiences everywhere she performs, leaving listeners enriched and entranced on every single occasion.
The simplest gifts of God come wrapped in enticing layers of mystery. Take love. Take beauty. Take music. You can feel their impact but you never fully know how they work on your heart and soul and even the most learned can scarcely utter the last word in trying to define or describe them
(Excerpt from a promo for the album, ‘Abida-Baba Bulleh Shah’)
Recognised as the queen of mystical singing, Abida Perveen is a performer who has emerged as a driving force in an art form dominated by men. She presents in her performances a gift of music that is deeply immersed in love and beauty. No one, it is believed, can express sufi mysticism and its depth as melodiously as Abida. She is said to be the true heir to the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan legacy even though the style and repertoire of the two artistes differs quite significantly. Abida presents ghazals like her contemporaries Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanum or Munni Begum but her real talent comes to the fore most vividly in her hearty rendering of sufi and folk songs in Sindhi, Punjabi and Seraiki.
It is said that when she sings, there is a wild masti about her as she raises her hands exulting to God. Her singing is described as an exquisite adventure into the music, the lyrics, the melody, the improvisation and the note arrangements passed down from older generations because her singing is inspirational and full of fervour – an experience not to be missed.
Pure ecstasy … directed towards the religious sphere, making ecstasy a spiritual as well as a physical condition
(Edward Rothstein, writing in the New York Times)
Between Sufi lineage and the legacy of music, a thread of mystery repeatedly strikes a chord. When Abida sings, the listener is enveloped by the presence of God, yet it is difficult to grasp it, just as there is music all around us, but how many of us have seen the divine fiddler?
The heart-felt wisdom of the mystic saint Baba Bulleh Shah was sublimated in his unique style of poetic expression. Popularly known as kafi, this powerful style of poetry has had a telling impact on the fluent heritage of sufi culture and music. Baba Bulleh Shah has reigned over the eager minds and hearts of the people, sprinkling upon them his message of divine love. No wonder then that as one of the most original exponents of sufi culture, Bulleh Shah had chosen poetry and music as his language to get his message across to the masses. His tremendous following has proved that the path of the heart is much sweeter and shorter than the path of the intellect.
Abida has mastered the art of rendering kafi. She sings the chosen kalaam in her unique and riveting style. “She melds virtuosity and devotion, bringing profundity to the music along with flamboyance,” is how the New York Times describes the Pakistani prima donna.
Cleansing soul singer (who) has purification motives (and) tries to spread a message of love and induce a state of spiritual ecstasy with her Sufi mystic songs
(Benjamin Epstein in the Los Angeles Times)
As far as the immensely gifted singer’s fans are concerned, this is an understatement. Abida Perveen needs no introduction to connoisseurs who respect her as an artiste – the true moving force in the realm of sufi music – who proclaims her faith with her entire body. Her exotic melodies are rooted in intense encounters between sensitivity and spirituality. In fact, her earliest memories are linked to her passion for music and a desire to sing. Born in Larkana, Sindh, in 1954, into a family which had close associations with the shrines of sufi saints, Abida Perveen was initially trained by her father Ustaad Ghulam Haider. She was soon singing such poets with great command as Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Sachal Sarmast and others. She became equally adept at singing the poetic works of Amir Khusrau, Nizamuddin Aulia, Bakhtiar Khaki, Moinuddin Chishti and Maulana Jalaluddin Roomi.
What is striking about Abida’s voice is its authenticity and rusticity. One of her stylistic devices that wins the hearts of her audience is the creative “patches” of poetry she inserts between two different couplets of a poem. These tukras (pieces) flow seamlessly into the performance in many forms, ranging from classical Urdu couplets to dohas in Braj bhasha or Punjabi – adding more value to the theme of the central poem – a superb example of music cutting across all barriers.
Responding to the comparison that is often made between her and Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, she says she pales in comparison with the late Ustad but acknowledges that she learnt a lot from him when he was alive. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan arrived on the world music scene by collaborating with international artistes such as Michael Brook or Peter Gabriel. Why is it then, people wonder, that Abida Perveen has not entered the joint collaboration genre? The humble artiste that she is, Abida says she does not have a burning desire to be famous but is ready for experimentation. She is quite happy with her album Jahan-e-Khusrau that she recorded in Delhi with Tunisian artiste Lofti Bouchnak. Khusrau’s poetry is magnetic and Abida says she really enjoyed singing his verse. She has also dedicated an entire album to Baba Bulleh Shah and is also planning a collection of rare ghazals by Faiz Ahmed Faiz and sufi kalaam of Baba Shah Hazrat Hussain.
Expressing the love of God at every turn
(Jon Dowling, Rhythm Magazine)
Sufi music has an aura of its own. Then where does film music fall into her scheme of things? For Abida Perveen, film music is temporary and situational. You hear it now and forget it a while later but sufi music, she feels, is eternal and carries an element of spirituality because it treats all humans equally. One reason for this, in her opinion, is that sufi music originates from dargahs and is for everybody.
Abida vehemently believes that the audience resides right there inside every artiste because an artiste is one’s own first listener. When she is performing, she feels as if she is singing to God because, to her, the audience is God. She also feels that sound transcends all man-made boundaries and that cultural ambassadors have managed to achieve what politicians and diplomats have failed in accomplishing. She strongly believes that sufi music could be a uniting factor between the people of India and Pakistan as it is understood and enjoyed in every nook and corner of the subcontinent and could serve to bring the people together.