Sanam Marvi

Vocal warrior Sanam Marvi is the next, great diviner of South Asia's humanist, folk, and Sufi texts

With compelling interpretations that draw deeply from one of the world’s great music traditions, Sanam Marvi is Pakistan’s next, inspiring diviner of South Asia’s humanist, folk and Sufi texts. A vocal warrior for tolerance, spirituality and peace, this contemporary daughter of interior Sindh can urge with sweeping clarion calls or disarm with nuance. “Deeply resonant. Sublime. Transporting.” (The International News/Pakistan)

with center stage

AVAILABLE March - May 2017
TRAVELERS 7 (5 musicians, 1 manager, 1 U.S. company manager)
VENUE Intimate listening rooms to large halls with excellent acoustics. Sound system to augment acoustic music; minimal backline required.
RECENT GIGS Aga Khan Museum, Toronto (2014), Fes Festival of Sacred Music, Morocco (2012, 2014), Theatre de la Ville, Paris (2012)

about sanam marvi

Transcendent Message: Pakistan’s Sanam Marvi Offers Compelling Interpretations of South Asian Vocal Masterpieces

“Our lives have become so fast-paced that people feel an emptiness within and are searching for inner peace,” says Sanam Marvi, the young and brilliant vocal interpreter of South Asian spiritual, folk, and classical poetry. “There is comfort to be found in the wisdom of Sufis, and in the couplets on divine love and devotion of our great poets.”

An in-demand performer too rarely heard outside émigré circles, Sanam Marvi will make her first extended tour to major venues in the U.S. as part of Center Stage Pakistan, in the Spring of 2017, a development she welcomes. “I simply want to spread the beauty of Sufi kalam [poetry] to all corners of the world,” she notes. “I want everyone to hear the message of Islam and truth.”

Backed by an acoustic ensemble of South Asian instruments (sitar, harmonium) and percussion (tabla, double-headed dholak drum), Marvi will perform pieces from across Sindh and Punjab, drawing on centuries-old poetry penned by and in praise of the saints and sages who lived and made music in the region. Their shrines are still central to the provinces’ cultural and musical lives.

Marvi’s performance of these pieces balance immediacy and ornamentation, lending new light to a well-loved South Asian repertoire of sufi, ghazal, qawwali, and folk songs. She can urge with sweeping clarion calls or beckon with nuance. Her voice possesses an intense beauty even those less familiar with her mastered genres can feel, as international performances at notable venues like Paris’s Theatre de la Ville, Morocco’s Fes Festival of Sacred Music, and Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum attest.

“Sufi poetry and Sufism are about humanity, love, peace,” reflects Marvi. “It’s connecting people beyond all borders and boundaries. You don’t have to come from an Islamic tradition to get it. It’s a message for all human beings to share.”

Born in 1986, Marvi hails from the small city of Hyderabad, in Sindh. By the age of 7, she began singing with her father, Faqir Ghulam Rasool, during festivals and ceremonies held at shrines throughout Pakistan’s Sindh and Punjab provinces. Female performers are fairly common at these festivals, but Marvi’s voice stood out for its range and clarity. She continued her studies under noted gurus, including Ustad Fateh Ali Khan at the Gwailor gharana (school).

Now a rising star across the subcontinent, Marvi made a breakout performance on Pakistan national television in 2009. Her powerful and revelatory interpretations of the sub-continent’s mystics reach across cultural borders and generations to offer solace in our uncertain and often troubled times.

Stardom aside, a sense of service permeates Marvi’s approach to her music, as well as the repertoire itself. “When I’m on stage, I’m oblivious to my surroundings,” she says. “But I want to transmit the message I’m receiving from my Lord faithfully to my audience.”

One of Marvi’s signature pieces, “Tere ishq nataya” (“Your Love Makes Me Dance”), a masterpiece by 18th-century Punjabi Sufi light Bulleh Shah, beautifully presents this dynamic of loving devotion and service. “Bulleh Shah was dismissed by his teacher and he was heartbroken,” explains Marvi. “He knew his teacher loved dance, so he learned to dance. He wrote this poem about that devotion, that his love for his teacher brought him to dance and earn love in return.” Like all Sufi poems, it suggests divine connection via more mundane, deeply emotional interactions.

Marvi’s interpretations -- she sings in Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, and Saraiki --  transcend the ordinary as well, drawing listeners from outside the cultural world of the South Asian Sufi saints into their message. “Vocal music across cultures shares many attributes; people shouldn’t feel intimidated  musically,” she insists. “It’s great to understand the poetry, but that’s not the most important thing. If you come with an open heart, we will connect.”

Cultural catalyst, writer, performer, activist, and advocate Arieb Azhar will travel with Sanam Marvi’s party on tour  to lead a series of off-stage activities including panel discussions, master classes, and workshops. As a cultural translator of South Asia’s poetics and musics, Arieb’s humanist, inclusive approach shares common ground with Sanam’s. “True music is the union between the individual and the universal; a release, rapture, celebration, quest, lament of the human spirit. If I am able to touch that in moments of my life, I consider myself fortunate!”  

Sanam Marvi
Sanam Marvi, vocals
Kashif Ali, Tabla
Imran Ali, Harmonium
Shahid Ali, Sitar
Noor Bux, Dholak
Arieb Azhar, Guest Artist

About Center Stage

Center Stage invites performing artists from select countries to the United States to perform, meet, and share their experiences with communities around the country.

Now in its third season, by the end of 2017, 24 ensembles from Algeria, Haiti, Morocco, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Vietnam will have made independent month-long tours from coast to coast, hosted by colleges and universities, festivals, music clubs, and cultural centers. Each tour includes residencies in large cities and small towns, and a range of activities from performances, workshops, and discussions, to artist-to-artist exchanges, master classes, and community gatherings. Center Stage artists engage with audiences onstage and online sharing their work with audiences in the U.S. and friends and fans at home to build mutual understanding through shared cultures and values.

Center Stage is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts organizations, with support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Center Stage Pakistan is made possible by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the Henry Luce Foundation. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.

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Sanam Marvi
On tour as part of Center Stage

Credit Info
The following credit is required on the title page in all printed performance programs. We appreciate its use wherever else it's practical: brochures, posters, ensemble-only promotional materials, press releases, advertisements, etc:

The presentation of (name of ensemble] is part of Center Stage, a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts organizations, with support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Center Stage Pakistan is made possible by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the Henry Luce Foundation. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.

Center Stage logo placement is greatly appreciated. On web-based materials, please link from the Center Stage logo or written name to www.centerstageUS.org.

Download a zipped folder with high resolution promotional photos and color and black and white versions of the Center Stage logo here.