Sanam Marvi, Sufi singer Image Credit: Javed Nawab/Gulf News
  • The rising voice of Sufi music
  • It's about love … the love of humanity.
  • It's about a world with no boundaries, no violence and no hunger.
  • It's about a path that says the only true thing to live by is ‘Haq' or ‘right'.
  • Its instrument is music. Its storytellers are poets and singers.
  • Its battle, or ‘jihad', is against the ever-manifest human ego.
  • Sufism is — compassion. And Sanam Marvi perhaps its youngest storyteller.

A Sufi musician with a voice like a tidal wave, the 26-year-old sings to spread a better understanding of a belief system that some consider bohemian, a few understand and many have a vague idea of.

Growing up in Hyderabad, Sindh, Sanam was seven years old when her father told her mother: "Our daughter has a voice that is meant to be heard in a dargah [shrine] … that is meant to spread the words of Sufi wisdom."

Fakir Ghulam Rasool was himself a Sufi folksinger, who heard the divinity in his child's voice. So she started accompanying him and singing along in Sufi compositions by Shah Hussain and Baba Bulleh Shah.

"People were very accepting… they appreciated this small child singing the writings of the Sufi poets and guides," she said.

"My father is a very good singer and I learnt Sufi kalaam [writings] from him. He would tell me that my voice reminded him of his voice in his youth."

Sanam spoke to Gulf News at an event hosted in Dubai by the Pakistan Consulate to mark the day of declaration of the country.

She said: "I've sung in many Sufi shrines including that of Shah Abdul Latif Bittai, Sai Baqar Shah, Baba Gulam Farid, Baba Shah Hussain, Baba Ganj-E-Shakar, and Baba Bulleh Shah."

This was followed by intensive classical training with four leading teachers including Ustad Ali Nawas Khan, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and Ustad Aqil Manzoor.

"These days, classical music is listened to very little but the buniyaad [foundation] is that. So, I introduce elements of classical music in Sufi music. The response to it has been good. People have given me a lot of love by the grace of Allah… so much love, so much respect."

A trained musician true to her roots, she does find some of the regional pop music to be a disturbing trend.

"These days pop music… I call it paap [sin] music because they commit a crime with the music, with its message and melody. They commit a crime… the words weep when people take words of wisdom misconstrue it and place it randomly, mix it up. There is no message there."

The journey from shrines to the global stage has been interesting. About two years' ago, another well known Sufi musician from Pakistan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, requested a programme that would give him the opportunity to sing Sufi poetry from Sindh.

Sanam collaborated on that. Ten songs were done for Virsa Heritage on Pakistan Television, and the rest is history.

"After that Rohail Hayat [a former member of the Pakistani band Vital Signs and executive producer of Coke Studio] called me and said that he liked my voice. He said, ‘I wish that you perform in Coke Studio.'

"I was on in Season 3 and 4, which happened for the first time that an artist was repeated."

Sanam has had several other firsts, including singing two Sufi compositions for Pakistan's Oscar-winning documentary Saving Face and is also part of a non-profit charity music album featuring bands such as Guns 'n' Roses and singers like Todd Shea, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Noori. The album is a fundraising initiative for the children of earthquake and flood victims in Pakistan.

Today Sanam crosses many boundaries in her music. The mother of three, two sons and a girl, is scheduled to travel to New Delhi, India, in a few days' time.

"I enjoy performing a lot in India because there are so many important Sufi shrines there… there is Ajmer Sharif, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Chirag-e-Dehlavi. When I go there, I get a deep sense of serenity and peace. I sing their words, too.

"I had a big problem in my life that was resolved by Hazrat Nizamuddin Sarkar. Believe me, he came to me in my dream and said, ‘When you return to Pakistan your problem will be solved.' I was in Delhi to perform at a spring Sufi music festival. And when I returned to Pakistan, I got the message that my issue had been resolved.

"So now, if I go to India, I definitely make it a point to go to the shrine. And if I go to Hyderabad… Deccan — there is Yusufan Sarkar. I definitely go there, too. It has been my nature that wherever I go, if there is a shrine, a place of prayer, then I will definitely visit.

"My big dream is to perform at Ajmer Sharif … but when it comes to these things, you have to be called. Your desire has to meet acceptance, only then is it possible."

No matter the platform, her belief in the Sufi message is steadfast — the beacon that guides her voice.

She said: "Bura dudan chaliya, Jag mein bura na koie, Apne aap de andar vehkiya, Muhjse bura na koie… when people read this by Baba Bulleh Shah, they will understand that we may seek to find fault and bad in the world but we need to clear our hearts for people, do good and think good for others. This is the message of Sufis. All are one … the wise men of Sufism have only one message, the same message, that is Haq… the truth.

"And that is the message of my music - be a good human being, love humanity."