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Sufi singer Abida Parveen, live in Chennai!

Last updated on: November 20, 2009 13:38 IST

Songs from a Nightingale

Pavithra Srinivasan in Chennai

The ballroom in Chennai's Taj Coromandel is filled with an expectant hush; the best and finest of Chennai's literati and music aficionados fill in, eager to appreciate the launch party of The Hindu's November Fest, an annual event that celebrates the best of music, the world over.

This year's participants form a full complement of everyone from Ossibissa to Gom Myoung but the pick of them all is undoubtedly Abida Parveen, whose rousing style of sufiana kalam, the devotional music of Muslim mystics, has made her a household name internationally.

The fest begins enthusiastically with a small concert by classical singers Ranjani and Gayathri, who decide to bring out the best of their repertoire: a soulful Thevaram by Appar, Krishna Nee Beganao Baro and a Marathi Abhang that warns devotes not to visit Pandaripur at any cost as a ghost resides there. Saint Thukkaram visited, after all and never returned. A pure and intensely emotional performance that delivered the essence of Bhakthi.

But the guest of honour was undoubtedly Abida Parveen herself, touted the successor of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for her expertise in Sufi music. Born in Larkhana, Sindh, in a family with close links to Sufi shrines, she found herself drawn to Sufi music poetry as soon as she could sing and her first lessons came from her father Ustad Ghulam Haider, continuing with the Sham Chorasia gharana stalwart, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan.

Having made her radio debut in 1977, she grew in stature and popularity to become one of the sub-continent's best exponents of ghazal, thumri, qawwali and kafi music, and excels in rendering the verses of saint poets like Jalaluddin Rumi, Bulleh Shah, Lal Shahbaz Qalander and Amir Khusro.

Shaped by her faith in passion and peace, her singing is both rousing and meditative. According to her, "Music and poetry are the expressions of the highest truth. Sufi music is a tradition. Anyone with a heart will become one with it.""

Abida Parveen is the winner of Pakistan's prestigious awards, Pride of Performance and Sitare-e-Imtiaz, and holds her audience captive, whether in Fez, Paris, or London. That particular trait was demonstrated in the Taj once again, as she rose to the dais to personally honour Ranjani and Gayathri on their performances.

"This is the first time I am visiting "Madaras" and I am delighted," she said in melodious tones, to the waiting crowd. "And as I entered the room, my ears were assailed with wonderful music. I only wish that I evoke the same contentment when I perform. So many great musicians and lovers of music are present here. I pray that I may not disappoint anyone."

The most talented performers are always modest; a trait exhibited by Abida Parveen as well.

Image: Abida Parveen Live at The Hindu Friday Review November Fest
Video: shot by: Sreeram Selvaraj