Described as “one of Canada’s most original and compelling artists”, Parmela Attariwala has been active in genre-bending music and performance since moving to Toronto in 1994. She has toured and recorded with an array of musicians that includes Carla Bley, Ravi Naimpally, James Campbell, Anthony Braxton, Ed Hanley, Ernst Reijseger, John Taylor and Don Thompson. She has also collaborated extensively – as composer, musician and movement artist-–with a diverse range of choreographers, including Gitanjali Kolanad, Keiko Kitano, Claude Wittmann and Karen Kaeja. An ardent improviser and proponent of improvisational pedagogy as a tool for cross-genre musical communication, Parmela has been an active member of Toronto's free improvisation scene. In addition to traditional symphonic work, she also performed contemporary orchestral music for twenty-five years with the Esprit Orchestra, as well as smaller works with Toca Loca, New Music Concerts, Ensemble Noir, and the Queen of Puddings Theatre Company.
Parmela finds her creative home in the Attar Project. Conceived as a vehicle to integrate the eclectic strands of her own musical background, the Attar Project engages artists across musical genres and artistic practices in virtuousic collaborations that maintain the essence of each while challenging the boundaries between them. Since 2006, Parmela has been collaborating with Montreal-based tabla player Shawn Mativetsky, and together, they recorded The Road Ahead ... (2010), a collection of commissioned Canadian works for violin and tabla. “Créatif au possible, reflétant un nouveau type de pratique savante” (Le Devoir).
Parmela has released two other critically acclaimed recordings: Beauty Enthralled (1997)---“a cross-cultural handshake to set the mind spinning” (NOW magazine); and Sapphire Skies (2003), which features her own compositions---“a recording to treasure” (Wholenote magazine). She has performed and toured works from these albums across Canada, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
Born and raised in Calgary near Tsuu T'ina territory, Parmela was a student of Mount Royal College’s Academy for Gifted Youth and an original member of the Calgary Fiddlers. As a teenager, Parmela worked with musicians from improvising traditions, and began arranging and composing music for cross-cultural events in the early days of multiculturalism (1970s-80s). She formally studied jazz composition with Shelly Berger (1997-2000), and took workshops in electro-acoustic composition with Darren Copeland (2003/2005). Parmela received her post-secondary training at Indiana University (violin performance, 1988-honors) and the Berne Conservatory in Switzerland (1988-90). She holds a Masters degree in Ethnomusicology from the School of Oriental and African Studies (London, UK, 1992), and a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (2013).
Not content to sacrifice creativity for academia, Parmela continues to maintain a multi-faceted musical life. She performs with large and small ensembles, conducts research focused on cultural equity and pedagogy, and has been a dedicated music educator, teaching violin/viola for over thirty years. She has taught beginner strings at York University and has also taught violin, viola and fiddle at the Regent Park School of Music, one of Toronto's most progressive music institutions dedicated to serving economically challenged youth. Parmela teaches as she performs: believing that music-learning in the twenty-first century requires greater genre flexibility--including the integration of theory, improvisation and composition/creation--and that today's musicians must move beyond merely performance re-creation.
After cultivating a 25 year career in Toronto, Parmela moved to Vancouver, B.C. in 2019 to be closer to family, returning to the lands of the Coast Salish peoples where her grandparents made their home in the early 1900s. Parmela continues to focus on contemporary and experimental music in Vancouver, performing with the NOW Society, Redshift, Vancouver New Music, and Jared Burrows' Temporary Ensembles. She has also returned to interdisciplinary composing, recently fulfilling a series of commissions that offer musical reflections on works by visual artists Peter Morin, Nep Sidhu and Jeffrey Gibson.