A rare performance for the Sufi singer, and a coup for Manchester International Festival, Ruth Rosselson finds herself transfixed by the power of Abida Parveen’s voice and music
The biannual Manchester International Festival’s reputation for putting on original, new, unique and unusual performances has grown since its inaugural year in 2007. The festival covers all of the arts and includes theatre, visual arts, dance, music, food and family events. Many of the works premiered in Manchester have gone on to tour the world including one of last festival’s highlights, Bjork’s Biophilia. This year’s festival boasts a Massive Attack and Adam Curtis collaboration, Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth and a solo performance of Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy by local actress, Maxine Peake.
When the programme was first released, one of the events that most intrigued me was a concert by a 59-year-old Pakistani Sufi singer called Abida Parveen.She was described as one of the greatest spiritual singers alive and her appearance in Manchester would be a rare opportunity to see her perform. As a singer myself, and someone interested in music’s ability to transform and touch people, I was eager to hear Abida Parveen, despite having never heard her music before.
I am no expert on Sufi music although I do own some Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and have seen his nephews perform some years ago at WOMAD. Before the gig, I worried about how qualified I would be to review Abida Parveen, especially as I wouldn’t be able to understand a word of her singing. However, if any music can transcend language, this kind of music can, and Abida Parveen has too great a reputation as a singer for me to have her sing in my home city and let it pass me by.