World Village/Harmonia Mundi
recording website
Abida Parveen was born in 1954 to a deeply devout family with close associations to the shrines of Sindh and Punjabi Sufi saints. She received her musical training first from her father, Ustad Ghulam Haider, and later from the famous Indian vocalist Ustad Salamat Ali Khan of the Sham Chorasia Gharana lineage. Today she is the most famous female exponent of Pakistani ghazals and Punjabi kafees. For her depth of immersion, she is often compared to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. While her art shares the deeply mystical orientation of Qawwali, it doesn't include Nusrat's latter-day fascination with crossover audiences and his groundbreaking modernization of stylistic traditions.

Called the queen of Sufi song, Abida Parveen routinely delves into the repertoire of such Sindh saints as Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Shabaz Qalandar and Sacchal Sarmast. From the Punjab, she sings the ecstatic lyrics of Baba Bulhe Shah, Khawja Farid Ganje Shakar, Sultan Bahu, Mian Muhammad Buksh, Ghulam Farid, Pir Mehr Ali Shah and Shah Hussain. But she also includes saints from the Indian subcontinent such as Amir Khusrau, Nizamudin Auliya, Kutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki and Moinuddin Chishti, as well as Moulana Jalaluddin Rumi from Turkey.

Among her recordings are classics like Raqs-e-Bismil by Muzaffar Ali [Music Today]; Paigham-e-Mohabbat and Jahan-e Khusrau by Muzaffar Ali [Navras Records]; Songs of the Mystic [Navras Records]; Khazana [Ghazal Collection]; Mahi Yaar Di Gharoli Bhardi [Sufi Kalam]; and Meda Lal Qalanadr and Are Logo Tumhara Kya on Mystic Songs. On Visal [The Meeting], her small party of Nazir Hussain on table, Karam Hussain on dholak and Manzoor Hussain on harmonium finds itself expanded by one. A day prior to recording in France, the singer wished to add a flute to the ensemble. Henry Tournier, French flute maestro and assistant to Hariprasad Chaurasi who teaches master classes in Rotterdam, was invited and introduces sinuous bass bansuri to parallel Abida's voice or Manzoor's harmonium.

Listeners unfamiliar with Abida Parveen's otherworldly orbit will find The Meeting the perfect launching pad. Simply subtract the question-and-answer exchanges between soloist and backup chorus or the high-speed power scatting you'd find on Nusrat's or the Sabri Brothers' Qawwali. In other words, subtract flash and heavy metal. Then introduce some earthy folkloric elements from the ghazals of Ghulam Ali or Shujaat Hussain Khan's Punjabi songs but add scope and power to their voices.

What you'll be left with is purity without muscle, simple devotion without peacock feathers or rave elements. From all accounts, Parveen is an exceedingly humble artist of few words, preferring to let her music speak on her behalf. Listening to Visal speaks volumes indeed and directly to the heart without any extraneous embellishments. And though the lyrics revolve exclusively around the ecstatic utterings of Sufi mystics Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Shah Hussayn, Khawaja Ghulam Farid and Baba Bulhe Shah sung in Punjabi, Urdu, Sindhi and Siraiki, the power of mantric utterances and superior music making is such that you'll be transported to a mosque courtyard regardless.

Without knowing exactly why or how, you'll find yourself going to elsewhere, heart strings mysteriously tugged. If you're a hard nut to crack, simply program endless repeat. Sooner or later, something will give and you should find yourself unwittingly getting a taste of the sweet pain of longing Abida Parveen is singing about. Inducing such feelings is what Meeting is all about. Whom you'll meet and what you'll call it when it happens is for you to decide - but make no mistake, meeting is the raison d'être here. Mentioning far better recording quality than is common with original Indian or Pakistani pressings seems nearly too mundane a point to make - but it's accurate and merely adds to the overall magic.