Abida Parveen: Stirring the Spirit With Song

5 months ago / by Habibur Shohon
Abida Parveen
Image credits:

Widely recognized as one of the most powerful singers of devotional music, Abida Parveen is the indisputable Queen of Sufi Music like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is the King of Qawwali. She is known for bringing true passion and devotion to familiar Sufi and qawwali music and new compositions in those styles.

In the name of Islam, many critics condemned music as “haram” or forbidden by divine law, but Abida Parveen believes the voice is one of Allah’s gifts to humanity, and singing, she believes, is a way of praising the divine. Her music conveys her deep appreciation for the poetry of Babba Bulleh Shah and Ghulam Farid, two prolific Punjabi poets, and traditional devotional poems, or kalaams, like Ki Jana Mein Kaun and Tere Ishq Nachaya.

Any brief biography of Abida Parveen will tell of her birth in Sindh, Pakistan. What they may not convey about Abida Parveen, however, is her almost magnetic draw to dargahs and the poetry written by Sufi saints since three years old, as she recalls it. That was the age, in fact, at which she sang her first full kalam, or devotional Sufi song.

Many singers Abida Parveen inspired know the story of how she was raised in a household her father, Ghulam Haider, an artist, infused with Sufi music. He became her first music teacher, correcting her pitch (sur) and tempo (laya) as she was just singing casually around the house. She would call him, alternately, Gawwaya and Baba Sain.

As a young woman under her next teacher, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan of the Sham Chaurasia Gharana family of musicians and singers, Parveen learned how to apply her musical knowledge in an appropriate and timely manner. She learned to employ either her technical prowess or simplicity based on what a particular recording or performance demanded.

In the early ‘70s, she began performing at an annual festival known as Urs commemorating the anniversary of the death of “Moinnuddin Chishti,” a Sufi saint, and a type of shrine called Dargahs built over such a revered religious figure’s grave.

In 1989, the BBC broadcast her concert at London’s Wembley Conference Centre. And, she held her first international concert in September 1993, bringing Sufi music to California’s Buena Park.

In 1984, she received the Pride of Pakistan Award, bestowed on her by then Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. And, in 2005, then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf bestowed upon her the nation’s third-highest civilian honor, the Sitara-e-Imtiaz. In October 2021, she received the Kaladharmi Begum Akhtar Academy of Ghazal’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She then went on to receive the nation’s second-highest civilian award in 2013, Hilal-i-Imtiaz.

In January 2015, she received the Ambassador’s Recognition Award in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and, in 2017, she was named Peace Ambassador for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC.)

Among the most notable singers Abida Parveen worked with was Shehzad Roy, with whom she released the successful collaboration “Zindagi” about the social challenges of children. She also collaborated with Salim-Sulaiman, an Indian music director, and a Canadian orchestra to release the song “Noor-e-Illahi” on Eid in 2016.

In addition, Parveen was a judge, along with Bangladeshi singer Runa Laila and Indian singer Asha Bhosle, on the televised talent competition “Sur Kshetra,” pitting singers from neighboring Pakistan and India against one another.

Since 2010, Abida Parveen has made several appearances on the hit Pakistani TV show Coke Studio, further boosting her already strong career trajectory. The platform’s most popular performances include “Aaqa,” which she sang with Ali Sethi, and her solo track “Maula-e-Kul.” One of Parveen’s own most popular singles on any platform, incidentally, is “Chaap Tilak,” which she recorded with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

In 2012, Parveen turned 30 poems by Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai into ragas.

Interestingly, the more famous Abida Parveen becomes, the less frequently she performs. Whereas other artists may go on tour every six months, she’s only done it around three to four times total in the past decade. Rather than seeking accolades and accumulating wealth, she’s more interested in singing as a form of praise to Allah and the Sufi Saints, learning from her spiritual teachers and composing new songs.

Abida Parveen is known for her soulful music and the authentic emotions and devotion they convey and elicit. Her love of spirituality in general and the particular spirituality in music flows through and comes forth in her singing. She uses her gift to spread messages of love through Bhakti and Sufi songs.

Today, she remains in the country of her birth, living in Sindh and recording in Karachi.

FAQs

What is Abida Parveen famous for?

Abida Parveen is famous for her singing voice, and particularly for singing traditional Sufi and Bhakti devotionals and the words of classic Sufi poets put to music.

When did Abida Parveen start her career?

Abida Parveen’s breakout solo debut was the song “Tuhinje zulfan jay band kamand widha,” performed in 1973. Her TV debut was on “Awaz-o-Andaz” in 1980. She, then, made her film debut in 2008 singing “Sajjan de Haath” from the movie Zill-e-Shah.

Is Abida Parveen married?

In 1975, Parveen married Radio Pakistan producer Ghulam Hussain Sheikh. As of 1980, he retired from that position to mentor her in the growth of her career. The couple has one son, Sarang Latif, and two daughters, Pereha Ikram and Mariam Hussain; each one has some unique tie to the music world and serves as one of her advisors. This is especially the case since Sheikh’s passing from a heart attack on a plane flight in the early aughts.

How old is Abida Parveen?

Born on February 20, 1954 in Larkana, Sindh, Pakistan, the age of Abida Parveen at the 2022 time of this writing is 68 years old.