It is a true testament to the talent of Pakistani legend Abida Parveen that no mention of Pakistani music can be complete without mention of the Queen of Sufi music herself. With a handful of albums, compilation appearances, and various world tours, she is regarded as the most successful Sufi female performer, and one of the more notable performers of the form in general. As she passes her 65th Birthday on February 20th, GVS looks at the remarkable singer’s life and many achievements.
Born in Larkana Sindh in 1954, Abida Parveen grew into a house where her father, Ustad Ghulam Haider, decided to ignore convention and allowed her to study under him bravely. From the age of 3, she was singing, and attending her father’s school helped her hone her skills.
Furthermore, he chose her instead of his two sons as the family’s musical heir, something that was essentially unheard of for female musicians. As she progressed and showed immense talent, she was brought under the tutelage of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, who was from a distinguished family of Sufis: the Sham Chaurasia Gharana. Her career began in the early seventies when she began performing at Dargahs and Urs.
However, her big break came after a Sindhi song she sang on Pakistan Radio managed to become a hit. Her vocal skills impressed the audiences so much that she was asked to become a permanent fixture on Radio Pakistan for as long as she wanted.
Soon after, she was married to Ghulam Hassan Sheikh, who was at that time a senior producer at Radio Pakistan and would soon become her manager. The duo managed to propel Parveen’s career to new heights shortly after Sheikh retired from his job in the ’80s. This began with her TV debut in 1980, as part of Sultana Siddiqui’s Awaz-o-Andaz.
Abida Parveen’s style of singing is remarkable for her incredible range, which allows her to do justice to a plethora of musical genres. She has sung many Thumris, Ghazals, Kafis, Qawwalis, Raags and Sufi music including classical and rock.
Due to her ability to play instruments like a Pump organ, Keyboard, Harmonium, and Sitar, she was able to show her mastery while singing live. She is also able to do so in several languages: Urdu, Sindhi, Persian, Nepali, Punjabi, Arabic, and Siraiki.
Like every pop icon, she has her style and sense of identity, and her wardrobe and look are easily identifiable with her signature dresses, Ajrak, a Sindhi dupatta. Around this time, her career took off internationally, and she began concerts in different cities around the world.
One of her landmark performances includes her performance at the 1989 Wembley Conference Centre, which was even broadcasted by the BBC. She has since sung at several international venues and contributed to the soundtrack of a few Bollywood movies.
Her music has a prominent presence in Pakistani and Indian films and TV dramas, with hits like “Aandhi Chali to Naqsh-e-Kaf-Pe Nahi Mila,” “Yar Ko Humne,” “Jab Se Tune Mujhe” and “Tere Ishq Nachaya” to name a few.
More recently, she has become somewhat of a frequent fixture in Coke Studio Pakistan, appearing in more than five seasons of the highly acclaimed music series. In addition, she has been a judge in a host of Pakistani and Indian music shows, including Pakistan Idol, Star Voice of India, Chotte Ustaad and Sur Kshetra.
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For her contributions in the field of musical arts, she was awarded Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 2005 and Hilal-e-Imtiaz in 2012. She has also been declared an Ambassador of Peace by SAARC. With her majestic and soulful voice, the singer continues to steal hearts and be as vital a part of Pakistani music as she was when she first forayed into music in the seventies.