Begum Parveen Sultana’s voice is renowned for its extraordinary range, clarity, and versatility. Spanning nearly four octaves, she can swoop from patient meditations to powerful evocations of the divine in an instant. Equally at home with tackling khayal, thumri, or bhajan, she is a modern Hindustani superstar.
Born into a musical family of Afghan heritage, she started developing her unique style from early childhood. Aged five, her mother noticed her talent for humming along to her father’s own practice while sitting on his lap, and soon after she commenced her formal training. She imbibed the sounds of Lata Mangeshkar along with classical greats, and made her public debut aged twelve.
Later she studied under renowned scholar-musician Pandit Chinmoy Lahiri, famous for bringing together the ideas of nine different gharanas. At Lahiri’s home one day she met Bengali vocalist Dilshad Khan. They would go on to study together, marry, and tour the world performing jugalbandi vocal duets, intertwining their own Patiala and Kirana gharanas with styles from across North India.
Sultana has always prioritised classical forms (“the sadhana of it, the pleasure of it, the godliness of it, it can’t be replaced by anything”), but is famous for non-classical excursions too. Khayyam, a veteran film composer, has high praise: “If it’s tough, she’s the one to ask - she’ll deliver it like it’s the easiest thing you’ve created.” At age 26 she became the youngest artist to receive the Padma Shri, and has since been recognised by institutions from the Sangeet Natak Academy to MTV, as well as being awarded the title ‘Cleopatra of Music’.
"Musicians should open their ears to many different ideas. The personal creative impulse is more important than trying to limit yourself to your own tradition."
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