Abida Parveen Visal Review

Album. Released 2002.  

BBC Review

Pakistani singer Abida Parveen interprets radical Sufi poetry.

Peter Marsh 2002

Long feted as the heir to the crown of the late Qawwali legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Pakistani singer Abida Parveen is the owner of one of the most remarkable voices on the planet.

On this recording Parveen devotes herself to Kafi, a strain of mystical and often radical poetry originating from what is now the troubled border between India and Pakistan. These are love poems in many senses of the word and the Sufi ideal of Visal(union with The Beloved) is often expressed in ways that seem as worldly as they are spiritual.

Whether any awareness of Sufism is necessary to fully understand this music is a moot point; but without getting into Cultural Studies territory it's clear that the best devotional music (whether Gregorian Chant, John Coltrane or Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares ) has a power to communicate across racial and denominational divides, and Parveen's ecstatic flights are no exception.

This is a more reflective music than the joyous abandon of Qawwali; tabla and dholak provide the shifting, cyclical heartbeats that underpin Parveen's song, shadowed by harmonium and bansuri flute. Parveen's gloriously honeyed voice is a warm, agile instrument, suffused with sadness and joy, strength and fragility in equal measure.

Even on the closing "Are logo tumhara kya", whose more insistent groove pushes into Qawwali territory, she tempers the joyous defiance of the poem with a deep yet slightly ungraspable melancholy. With such a voice Parveen could sing a shopping list and have an audience weeping (though I doubt we'd ever get to test that particular theory).

Like Nusrat, Mahalia Jackson, Coltrane or even Tim Buckley, Parveen seems to be channeling the music rather than creating it. Every phrase is a surprise, each repeat of a melodic line a slight variation as voice, harmonium and flute unravel lingering, circular melodies.

Beautiful, uplifting stuff; though not as immediate as the surging ecstacies of the big Qawwali ensembles, her intimate, charged music offers much to those prepared to give themselves over to it. Recommended.

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