“When I perform, I feel like there is no one in the hall. Every single time, I’m not there. I’m somewhere else. And I don’t know where that place is.”
Sanam Marvi has just performed at the BAM Opera House in Brooklyn, New York. At some point during the performance one of the audience members yelled, ‘Sanam Marvi, you rock!’ prompting her to smile.
The audience is composed of both South Asians and non-South Asians — people who don’t understand what she’s singing but have paid to see her perform anyway. Marvi has come a long way, from a little village near Dadu called Khairpur Nathanshah, Sindh, to where she is now.
“If you count all of the houses together they’ll add up to maybe 50 or 60 in one village,” Marvi describes her village to me as we meet for a little heart-to-heart. “I started singing from the age of seven. My father taught me [along with Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, Ustad Majeeb Khan and Ustand Ali Nawaz Khan]. It’s a tradition among big ustads that they don’t teach their skills to [a lot of] students. That’s why I was made to train as well. He was of the opinion that ‘what I have learnt, I must pass on’ and to me he said ‘What you have learnt, you must pass on too’.”
Growing up, life wasn’t easy for Marvi. Her father, Faqeer Ghulam Rasool, was a small-time folk artist from Sindh. “A musician’s family struggles a lot because they have no means. People don’t give them money.” One incident from her childhood sticks out for her.
“20 years ago, my father performed with a very famous artist,” Marvi recalls. “They returned from the show around 6am and she [the artist] immediately went to sleep. But the situation at our home was such that we were starving. There was nothing [to eat]. There was such poverty that we’d eat once a day and then wonder what are we going to do next.
“What would happen is that — I have five siblings — only five rotis would be made. From that the [younger] children would eat and often my father, mother and I would sleep hungry. My mother used to say ‘You’re the eldest, you can take the hunger, let the little ones eat.’”