SANAM MARVI is a vocal warrior. One of the most famous performers in the Sufi, ghazal and folk genres, the Pakistani singer has been earning awards and garnering countless fans since her debut in 2009.
Since she was seven, Marvi has honed the art of singing Sufi poetry in the traditional qawwali style and uses her fame to spread peace, love, and spirituality to people of all walks of life.
Marvi’s father, the Sindhi folk singer Faqeer Ghulam Rasool, led her musical training from a young age; after learning from him, Marvi received classical training from Ustad Fateh Ali Khan of Hyderabad, Sindh at the Gwalior gharana school.
As an interpreter of spiritual, folk, and classical poetry, Marvi relishes the comfort found in ancient texts.
Her performances, during which she’s accompanied by musicians on traditional instruments such as table, harmonium, sitar, and dholak, share Islam’s message of peace and seeks to connect the individual to the universal.
Marvi makes her Southeastern debut through public diplomacy inititive Center Stage. She’s joined on this tour by guest artist Arieb Azhar, a musician, activist, and writer who will introduce Marvi’s performances. Azhar is a cultural translator of South Asia’s poetry and music and his humanist, inclusive views align beautifully with Marvi’s mission.
We spoke with Marvi and Azhar with Azhar translating to learn more about Marvi’s roots and message.
This is your Southeastern United States debut. How do you hope an English-speaking audience connects with your work?
Music is a language by itself. It doesn’t have a specific language through language. I hope to get a message across of the Sufi poetry which I interpret and I hope that comes across and the audience can appreciate it.
I understand you grew up singing with your father. Did you hope to sing as a professional at that age?
When I started learning from my father at the age of seven, I had no inkling that I was going to do this professionally. I was just learning from him and enjoyed learning from him. I found it interesting, what he was teaching me. At a certain point, I began to realize the importance of what I was doing and the need to take it out of the area where I hail from. This message is too big to be contained in one province; it concerns all of humanity. It’s not connected with any one religion. It needs to go global.
You studied Sufi poetry for many years as well—how did that study inform your music career?
I grew up learning poetry of the great Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, who is very, very famous from that part of Pakistan. Not only did he write a lot of beautiful Sufi poetry and ancient folk tales, but he also put those poetry into tune...poetry of this scale has a maximum effect on the listener. The connection between music and poetry among Sufi poetry is very strong.
There’s an increasing popularity of Sufi music especially among young people. Why do you think that is?
A lot of credit is due to the [Pakistani music television series] Coke Studio, because Coke Studio brought the folk music out of Pakistan and introduced it to a new generation. A lot of credit goes to them.
And, if I [Azhar] might add, the reason it became so successful was because there was already a thirst for this type of knowledge. I feel that in our society in Pakistan there was a need of people to connect with something deeper than they were taught to identify. This tradition connects us beyond borders and connects with our roots, our history, and other religions. We are getting ready to do another season of Coke Studio and rehearsing the songs over the next couple of days.
Is there anything that you and Sanam would like your audience to know before they experience the performance?
Sanam hopes the audience will enjoy the poetry she’s going to be singing and that the message of the poetry is properly conveyed. And that’s why I’m here; my job is to make sure the people also understand and are appreciating the musical quality of the whole thing and intention behind the music, but also get to enjoy the lyrical aspect.