After Abida Parveen, Sanam Marvi is the leading name in Sufi music in Pakistan. The raspiness of Sanam Marvi’s voice is so recognizable. A cracking voice is often frowned upon in performers and singers in Pakistan and India. With her, it’s accepted and even adored.
Through Coke Studio, Marvi has been able to attain international notoriety. Though, the fame did not come easily. And nor did this Pakistani singer achieve success quickly. This success was a result of a lifelong struggle and a lot of hard work.
Early life and Difficult Childhood
Sanam Marvi was born in April 1986. Her mother was poor. When Sanam was quite young, her father was killed over some land dispute when Sanam was only 2 years old.
Following his murder, Sanam and her mother were kicked out of their own house. Her mother and Saman ended up at a Sufi shrine.
At the shrine of this Sindhi saint, Sanam’s mother was approached by a lady to cook at her house. Innocently, her mother accepted the job. It turns out that she’d met a pimp.
While cooking at this brothel, she was approached by a faqir who wanted to marry her mother. And her mother accepted the proposal of the faqir. When Sanam was very young, her stepfather began to teach her music. Marvi’s journey with Sufi music started at the age of 7.
Training with Ustad Fateh Ali Khan & Abida Parveen
Sanam Marvi’s childhood training was with her own father, where she learned Sufi music, and not classical music as is typically the case. After learning the basics, she learned with Ustad Fateh Ali Khan followed by the legendary Abida Parveen. Because Marvi was an ardent fan of Parveen from childhood, learning how Parveen sings and uses Sindhi and Punjabi poetry has been a blessing (more on Punjabi Sufi Songs).
By 16, Marvi had gained recognition for singing the Sufi poetry of Bulleh Shah and Ghulam Fareed.
In her late teens, Sanam Marvi was married off. Someone that attended her program later asked her father for her hand in marriage. When she arrived at her husband’s home, she discovered that he had another wife but no children. Two years into that marriage, her first husband was killed over some land disputes. Later, she married her first cousin with whom she has 3 children.
Success after Coke Studio Pakistan
Despite a challenging upbringing and personal life, Sanam Marvi has risen to the top. As recent as Season 12 of Coke Studio Pakistan (released during the pandemic), Sanam Marvi made another sensational track. The performance was a rendition of Hairaan Hua. This song comes after singing for Coke Studio for 11 years! Across these years, she’s sung several timeless songs in different languages.
While her rendition of Lagi Bina/Chal Mele Noon Challiye remains the most popular with Coke Studio, Manzil-e-sufi is my personal favorite. These renditions led to touring opportunities, most recently with another Coke Studio star Arieb Azhar.
Marvi’s signature on Sufi music
Her first public appearance was on Radio Pakistan. And in 1999, Sanam Marvi debuted in a festival called Lok Virsa Islamabad. She won for her rendition of the Sufi Folk song. According to her own account, her music was recognized after Virsa Heritage hosted by Mian Sallauddin of Pakistan.
Sanam Marvi Today
Shaukat Khanum hospital had had many fundraisers. The first ones were hosted directly by Imran Khan, and the dinners featured a performance by Nusrat. Now, for the last few years, the Marve has performed at these fundraisers.
Sanam Marvi is a highly sought-after recording artist. The singer spends a lot of time in Karachi giving her voice to numerous Pakistani dramas and singles. Today her performances include musicians playing several instruments, that double as backup vocalists. Unfortunately, the ensemble misses strong voices to match and back up Marvi. Regardless, she has a strong Indian and Pakistani fan following.